On this page:
Tiredness | Bowel problems | Bladder problems | Lymphoedema |
Menopause | Osteoporosis and heart disease |
Sexuality issues |
It may take some time to recover from treatment for cervical
cancer. As well as causing physical changes, you may find
that cancer affects you emotionally.
Side effects of treatment vary from person to person. Some
women don’t experience any side effects; others may experience
a few. Side effects may last from a few weeks to a few months or,
in some cases, many years or permanently. Fortunately, there are
ways to reduce or manage the discomfort that side effects cause.
Many women who are treated for cervical cancer find that
tiredness is a major issue, particularly if they have radiotherapy
and chemotherapy. The tiredness may continue for several
months, or even a year or two, after treatment has finished.
Coping with tiredness
- Plan your day so you have
time to rest regularly.
- Talk with your family and
friends about how you’re
feeling and discuss things
they can help you with, e.g.
housework and shopping.
- Do some light exercise, such
as walking or stretching, to
help increase your energy
levels. Ask your doctor if these
activities are suitable for you.
- Read Cancer Council’s
booklets Living Well After Cancer and Cancer, Work & You for more tips.
Feeling tired is not only a side effect of the treatment itself.
Travelling to hospitals and clinics for treatment can be exhausting.
If you work during your treatment or if you have a family to care
for, this can make you feel especially tired.
It may be frustrating if other people don’t understand how you’re
feeling. Find out more about our support services.
After surgery or radiotherapy, some women notice changes in
their bowel habits. You may experience constipation or diarrhoea,
or feel pain in your abdomen.
The following tips may help you to manage these side effects:
- Drink peppermint or chamomile tea to reduce abdominal
or wind pain.
- Drink plenty of liquids (except alcohol and caffeinated drinks)
to replace fluids lost through diarrhoea or to help soften stools
if you are constipated.
- Limit spicy and greasy foods, as these can make diarrhoea and
- Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about making changes to
your diet, or to ask whether taking medication is an option.
For more information, call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 for a free copy of the booklet Nutrition and Cancer
Bladder control may change after surgery or radiotherapy. Somewomen find they need to pass urine more often or in a hurry.
Others may experience involuntary loss of urine when they cough,
sneeze, laugh, strain or lift. This is called urinary incontinence.
There are ways to manage and treat urinary incontinence. Ask
your doctor to refer you to a continence nurse or physiotherapist
at your hospital. You can also call the National Continence
Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 or visit continence.org.au.
The blood vessels in the bowel and bladder can become more
fragile after radiotherapy. This can cause blood to appear in urine
or stools, even months or years after treatment. Let your doctor
know if this occurs so you can be given the appropriate treatment.
If lymph nodes have been damaged or removed during surgery,
lymph fluid may not drain properly from your legs. This causes the
fluid to build up and the legs to swell, which is called lymphoedema.
This can occur during treatment or after treatment has finished.
It is important to manage lymphoedema symptoms as soon as
possible. Gentle exercise, compression stockings, and a type
of massage called manual lymphatic drainage can all help to
reduce the swelling. A physiotherapist trained in lymphoedema
management will be able to give you further advice.
To find a practitioner who specialises in the management of
lymphoedema, visit the Australasian Lymphology Association
website. Cancer Australia's booklet Lymphoedema - what you need to know is also a good source of information.
If you’ve had radiotherapy to your ovaries or surgery to remove
them, your body will no longer produce the hormones oestrogen
and progesterone. When these hormones are no longer made
by the body, women stop menstruating (having periods). This is
called menopause. For most women, menopause is a natural and
gradual process that starts between the ages of 45 and 55.
Symptoms of menopause include:
- hot flushes
- mood swings
- trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- vaginal dryness.
The symptoms of sudden menopause are usually more severe than
a natural menopause, because the body hasn’t had time to get used
to a gradual decrease in the levels of oestrogen and progesterone.
For information about dealing with the symptoms of menopause,
talk to your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Osteoporosis and heart disease
Menopause may cause other changes in the body. For example,
over time, your bones may become weak and brittle, and break
more easily. This is called osteoporosis. Your cholesterol levels
may rise, which can increase your risk of heart disease.
The table below outlines ways to help prevent osteoporosis and
heart disease. For more information, talk to your doctor, or visit osteoporosis.org.au and heartfoundation.org.au.
- Eat 3–5 serves of calcium-
rich food daily (e.g. yoghurt,
milk, tofu, green vegetables).
- Vitamin D helps the body
absorb calcium. The main
source of vitamin D is sun
exposure. Visit the SunSmart website or
download the SunSmart app
for safe times to go out in
the sun in your location.
- Ask your GP whether
a calcium or vitamin D
supplement might help you.
- Do weight-bearing exercise,
such as walking, dancing or
team sports. Ask your GP
what is suitable for you.
- Ask your doctor to check
your cholesterol levels.
If they are high, ask
about medication and/or
- Eat lots of fruit, vegetables
- Reduce your saturated fat
intake. Sources of this
fat include processed
meats and takeaway foods.
- Exercise regularly. Your
doctor can suggest
exercises that are suitable
- If you smoke, talk to your
doctor about quitting or call
the Quitline on
Having cervical cancer can affect your sexuality in different ways.
The effects you experience depend on many factors, such as your
treatment and its side effects, whether you have a partner, and
your overall self-confidence.
Knowing the potential challenges and addressing them early may
help you to adjust to these changes. Sexual intercourse may not
always be possible, but closeness and communication are vital
to a healthy relationship. Talking to a counsellor may help.
The main side effect of treatment will be to the
vagina. If the ovaries have been affected by surgery or radiotherapy,
they will no longer produce oestrogen. This will cause dryness in
your vagina, and it may not expand easily during sexual intercourse.
Radiotherapy can also cause the vagina to narrow or shorten (vaginal
stenosis). Although vaginal stenosis can make sexual intercourse
uncomfortable, it should not affect your ability to reach orgasm. See below for ways to keep your vagina open and more elastic.
Coping with vaginal side effects
- Your doctor may suggest
you use a vaginal dilator to
help keep the walls of the
vagina open and supple.
A dilator is a tube-shaped
device that is designed to
gently stretch the vagina.
Used with lubricant, it is
inserted into the vagina
for short periods of time.
Ask your nurse or radiation
therapist for more information
about vaginal dilators.
- Having regular gentle sexual
intercourse can also help
widen the vagina.
- Ask your doctor about
replacement therapy (HRT),
which may help with
A lack of interest in sex or loss of desire is common
because of the physical and emotional effects of treatment.
If you do not feel like having sexual intercourse, or if you find it
uncomfortable, let your partner know. It normally takes some
time for sex to be comfortable again. You can also explore other
ways to be intimate, such as massage and cuddling.
For more information about sexuality issues, call 13 11 20 for
a free copy of the booklet Sexuality, Intimacy and Cancer or read more about sexuality and intimacy.
Because cervical cancer affects the reproductive organs, some
treatments, such as hysterectomy and radiotherapy, will cause
infertility. This means it is no longer possible to become pregnant.
Many women experience a sense of loss when they learn that their
reproductive organs will be removed or will no longer function.
You may feel devastated if you are no longer able to have children,
and may worry about the impact of this on your relationship or
future relationships. Even if your family is complete or you were
not planning to have children, you may feel some distress.
If you have a partner, talk to them about your feelings. Speaking
to a counsellor or gynaecological oncology nurse may also help.
For some women, there may be options for having children after
treatment. Before treatment starts, ask your doctor or a fertility
specialist about what options are available to you. The following
list explains some ways you may be able to have children after
treatment for cervical cancer.
- If you have not already been through menopause, ask about
ways to preserve your fertility. One option may be to store
eggs or embryos for use in the future.
- If you require radiotherapy but your ovaries do not need to be
treated, you may be able to have a surgical procedure to move
the ovaries outside your pelvis and into your abdomen. This is
called ovarian transposition or relocation, and it may help to
prevent the ovaries being affected by radiation.
- Having a trachelectomy, where only the cervix is removed,
is an option for some women with early-stage cervical cancer. It will still be possible to become pregnant
after this procedure, but you will be at higher risk of having
a miscarriage and having the baby prematurely. Your doctor
can discuss these risks with you.
You can find more information in Cancer Council’s booklet
Fertility and Cancer. Call 13 11 20 for a free copy.
- Many women experience
side effects following
treatment for cervical cancer.
These may be caused by
surgery, radiotherapy or
chemotherapy. Side effects
can last from a few weeks to
many years or permanently.
- Tiredness is a common side
effect. Try to plan activities
around your energy levels,
and talk to your family and
friends about ways they
can help you.
- Bowel and bladder problems
may occur after treatment.
Your doctor can refer you
to a continence nurse or
physiotherapist to help you
manage these problems.
- Surgery or radiotherapy
to the ovaries can cause
may also cause temporary or
permanent menopause. The
symptoms of menopause
include hot flushes, mood
swings and insomnia. Talk to
your doctor about ways to
help reduce these symptoms.
- Menopause increases the
risk of osteoporosis and
heart disease. Ask your
doctor for advice on reducing
your risk or managing these
problems. Making some
simple changes to your diet
and lifestyle can help.
- Sexuality issues following
treatment are common.
Addressing any challenges
early can help you adjust.
It can be helpful to talk to
- Some women are not able
to have children after
treatment for cervical cancer.
This is called infertility and
can be very distressing. If
you would still like to be able
to have children, speak to
your doctor before treatment
starts about options for
preserving your fertility.
Reviewed by: Dr
Archana Rao, Gynaecological Oncologist, Royal Hospital for
Women, NSW; Danielle Carpenter, Gynaecological Cancer Nurse Consultant, Gynaecology Unit, The
Royal Women’s Hospital, VIC; Carmen Heathcote, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD;
A/Prof Michael Jackson, Director, Radiation Oncology, Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW; Haley McNamara, Social
Worker, Cancer Care Services, Metro North Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Isabelle Rousseau, Consumer.