Living with - Cervical cancer

The effect cervical cancer has on your daily life will depend on the stage of cancer and the treatment you're having.

Many women with cervical cancer have a radical hysterectomy. This is a major operation that takes time to recover from. Most women will need 6 to 12 weeks off work after a radical hysterectomy.

During recovery, try to avoid strenuous tasks and lifting, such as lifting children or heavy shopping bags. You probably will not be able to drive for at least 3 to 6 weeks after the operation, but you should check with your insurance company what their rules are.

Some of the treatments for cervical cancer can make you very tired, particularly chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Because of this, you may need to take a break from some of your normal activities for a while.

You should not be afraid to ask for practical help from family and friends if you need it. Practical help may also be available from your local authority. Ask your doctor or nurse about who you should contact.

Work

Having cervical cancer does not necessarily mean you'll have to give up work, although you may need quite a lot of time off. During treatment, you may not be able to carry on as you did before.

If you have cancer, you're covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. This means your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you because of your illness. They have a duty to make "reasonable adjustments" to help you cope. Examples of these include:

  • allowing you time off for treatment and medical appointments
  • allowing flexibility with working hours, the tasks you have to perform or your working environment

The definition of "reasonable" depends on the situation, such as how much it would affect your employer's business, for example.

You should give your employer as much information as possible about how much time you will need off and when. Speak to a member of your human resources department, if you have one. Your union or staff association representative can also give you advice.

If you're having difficulties with your employer, your union or local Citizens Advice may be able to help.

Macmillan Cancer Support also has more information and advice about work and cancer.

Money and benefits

If you have to reduce or stop work because of your cancer, you may find it difficult to cope financially. If you have cancer or are caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to financial support. For example:

  • if you have a job but cannot work because of your illness, you're entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer
  • if you do not have a job and cannot work because of your illness, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance
  • if you're caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to Carer's Allowance
  • you may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home or you have a low household income

It's a good idea to find out what help is available as soon as possible. You could ask to speak to the social worker at your hospital who can give you the information you need.

Free prescriptions

People being treated for cancer are entitled to apply for an exemption certificate giving free prescriptions for all medication, including treatments for unrelated conditions.

The certificate is valid for 5 years. You can apply for a certificate by speaking to your GP or cancer specialist.

Read more about help with prescription costs.

Your sex life

Many women feel nervous about having sex after treatment for cervical cancer, but it's perfectly safe. Sex won't make the cancer come back, and your partner cannot catch cancer from you.

If you want to, you can resume your normal sex life within a few weeks of finishing radiotherapy or having surgery. This will give your body time to heal.

If you're having chemotherapy, male partners should wear a condom as a precaution when you have sex. This is because at the moment it is not clear whether chemotherapy medication can come through in the vaginal mucus and affect male partners.

Some women find sex difficult after being treated for cervical cancer because the side effects of some treatments can include vaginal narrowing and dryness. In these cases, there are treatments that can help, such as vaginal dilators, moisturisers and lubricants.

Read complications of cervical cancer for further information.

Macmillan Cancer Support has more on how treatment for cervical cancer may affect your sex life.

More information and support

The charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust has information on all aspects of cervical cancer.

It also has an online forum, free helpline and Ask the Expert section, and runs face-to-face support groups and information days for women affected by cervical cancer.

Local cancer support groups may also be available in your area. Your specialist cancer nurse should be able to provide contact details.

Page last reviewed: 11/05/2018
Next review due: 11/05/2021