Chemotherapy primarily aimed at improving length of life while maintaining quality of life for incurable cervical cancer

Cervical cancer often affects young women. Cancer that has come back after initial treatment (recurrent) or has already spread around the body at diagnosis (metastatic) is incurable so chemotherapy is aimed at improving length of life, while maintaining good quality of life. A literature search was conducted identifying 30 potential trials; four trials were excluded. The 26 clinical trials included in this review encompass a large range of different drugs, doses and combinations in a mixed group of patients over a long time period (1976 to 2011), making it difficult to compare treatment options. Although there are no trials directly comparing chemotherapy with symptomatic management alone, chemotherapy is widely used in this setting and assumed to be of benefit. Cisplatin and carboplatin chemotherapy were shown to shrink the cancer in 10% to 30% of patients and are widely used in current practice. Cisplatin chemotherapy when combined with other drugs has been shown to prolong survival by a few months compared with cisplatin alone, but with the cost of increased side effects. Other chemotherapy has been used, but has been found to be less effective or more toxic. Quality of life for patients on chemotherapy appears to be similar for cisplatin and cisplatin-based combinations. Nearly all patients in these studies were relatively fit and well prior to starting treatment, despite their cancer; these results may not be the same in patients who are not fit and well.

Authors' conclusions: 

Combination cisplatin-based chemotherapy could be a viable option for patients of good performance status with recurrent/metastatic cervical cancer, but further trials that report adequate survival and QoL data are sought. Response rates and improvements in survival are low. Cisplatin-based combinations have significant toxicity. Outcomes are poor and novel cytotoxic/biological agents and optimal scheduling need further investigation. Future trials need to stratify for and perform planned subgroup analysis with respect to previous treatment and site of recurrence.

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Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women up to 65 years of age and is the most frequent cause of death from gynaecological cancers worldwide. A woman's risk of developing cervical cancer by 65 years of age ranges from 0.69% in developed countries to 1.38% in developing countries. Although screening by Pap smear should mean early detection at a curable stage for most women, many still present with advanced or metastatic disease with a worse prognosis. The addition of platinum-based chemotherapy to radiotherapy has improved outcome compared to radiotherapy alone; however, 30% to 50% fail to respond to treatment or develop recurrent disease. There are no standard treatment options for these patients, although platinum-based chemotherapy is frequently used and trials are on-going.


To compare different types and combinations of cytotoxic chemotherapy for the treatment of metastatic/recurrent cervical cancer.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Gynaecological Cancer Group Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, Issue 1, 2012), MEDLINE (1950 to January 2012) and EMBASE (1980 to January 2012). The reference lists from these and those of review articles were also checked.

Selection criteria: 

All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) involving chemotherapy for metastatic/recurrent cervical cancer. Trials involving radiotherapy, chemoradiotherapy, intra-arterial chemotherapy, biological agents or immunomodulators were excluded.

Data collection and analysis: 

Three review authors independently reviewed trials for inclusion and data extraction and assessed risk of bias.

Main results: 

There were no data comparing best supportive care with chemotherapy. Cisplatin-based regimens are the most widely used and therefore we have concentrated on these trials. In terms of response rates some non-platinum regimens are equivalent but toxicity is higher. The most common cisplatin regimen was 50 mg/m2 day 1 q21days. Higher doses had similar survivals. There was no direct comparison between single-agent cisplatin and carboplatin. Overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival (PFS) were not adequately reported and quality of life (QoL) outcomes were incompletely documented. Combination regimens were more toxic than single agents, but in the limited reported data this did not appear to adversely affect QoL.

No significant difference in response rate by site of recurrence was found, although there was a trend towards improved response when the main site of disease was beyond the previously irradiated pelvis.