Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells in the body by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells.

Some fast-growing healthy cells such as those which line your mouth and intestines or cause your hair to grow, can also take up these drugs. Damaging healthy cells causes side effects but these will get better or go away once chemotherapy treatment is complete.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a treatment which uses drugs to destroy cancer cells in the body by stopping or slowing their growth. Chemotherapy can also harm healthy cells, such as the cells that line your mouth and intestines or cause your hair to grow. Damaging healthy cells causes side effects, however these side effects get better or go away once chemotherapy treatment is complete.

What does chemotherapy do?

This depends on your type of cancer and the stage of your cancer, however, in general chemotherapy sets out to:

  • Cure cancer: by destroying cancer cells so they are no longer detected in your body.
  • Control cancer: by keeping cancer from spreading, slowing its growth, or destroying cancer cells that have spread to other parts of your body.
  • Ease cancer symptoms (palliative care): using chemotherapy to shrink tumors that are causing pain or discomfort.

Why is Chemotherapy given?

Chemotherapy can be used to:

  • Reduce the size of cancer: This is known as neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.Chemotherapy can be given to shrink a cancer before surgery or radiotherapy. This can make it easier to remove during surgery or make radiotherapy work better. If curing the cancer is not possible, it can shrink cancers that are causing pain and pressure.
  • Prevent cancer coming back: This is known as adjuvant chemotherapy. Even if your surgery was successful in removing all visible cancer, there may be a chance that your cancer could return. Microscopic bits of cancer sometimes remain and are undetectable with x-ray or scans . Depending on your specific case, you may benefit from adjuvant therapy, since this additional treatment may reduce the risk of your cancer recurring.
  • Controlling Cancer: Chemotherapy can help prevent cancer from spreading by slowing its growth, destroy cancer cells that have returned (recurrent cancer) or spread to other parts of your body (metastatic cancer).
  • Easing cancer symptoms: If a cure is not possible, chemotherapy may be given to shrink and control the cancer, or to reduce the number of cancer cells. This may then improve your quality of life. This is called palliative treatmen
  • Compliment alternative treatments: Chemotherapy can help radiation therapy and biological therapy work better.

How is Chemotherapy given?

Some chemotherapy treatments are given as tablets or capsules but most are given by drip (infusion) into a vein. The drugs go into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body to treat the cancer cells wherever they are. Occasionally just one chemotherapy drug is used, but often a combination of 2, 3 or more drugs is given.

Treatment schedules for chemotherapy vary widely, depending on the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is. Your Consultant will discuss these options with you.

How will I feel during Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy affects people in different ways. How you feel depends on how healthy you are before treatment, your type of cancer, how advanced it is, the kind of chemotherapy you are receiving, and the dose.

Every patient is different, so you may get many side-effects, some, or none at all. It all depends on the type and amount of drugs you get and how your body reacts to them. Unfortunately when working on the cancerous cells, the drugs can also affect the healthy cells.

Some common side effects include:

  • Infection
  • Infertility
  • Bruising
  • Nausea &/or sickness
  • Hair Loss
  • Sore mouth
  • Numbness/Pins and Needles
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite/taste

Your care team will explain to you the type of side effects that could be experienced as a result of the chemotherapy drugs being used for your treatment.