Chemotherapy (also known as Systemic Anti-Cancer Therapy or SACT) uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Cytotoxic means toxic to cells. Cytotoxic chemotherapy drugs disrupt the way cancer cells grow and divide.
Most chemotherapy drugs are carried in the blood. This means they can reach cancer cells anywhere in the body.
Chemotherapy drugs also affect some of the healthy cells in your body. These healthy cells can usually recover from damage caused by chemotherapy. But cancer cells cannot recover, and they eventually die.
Because chemotherapy drugs can affect some of the healthy cells in your body, this can cause side effects. Most side effects will go away after treatment finishes.
Not all cancers are treated with the same chemotherapy drugs. Different drugs affect the cancer cells in different ways. The drugs you are given and the way they are given will depend on the type of cancer you have.
You may have one chemotherapy drug or a combination of different drugs. When a combination of drugs is used, each drug is chosen for its different effects.
Chemotherapy is usually given as several sessions of treatment, with rest periods in between the sessions. The rest period allows your body to recover from the side effects. It also allows the number of healthy cells in your blood to go back to normal. Chemotherapy and the rest period make up a cycle of your treatment. Your cancer doctor will explain the number of cycles you need to treat the cancer.
Chemotherapy can be given in different ways depending on the type of cancer you have and your treatment plan. Your chemotherapy nurse will explain what is involved.
Usually, chemotherapy is given in a chemotherapy day unit or outpatient clinic. But depending on the type of chemotherapy, some people may stay in hospital to have it.
Chemotherapy can be given:
- By injection or a drip directly into a vein (intravenous chemotherapy)
- By mouth as tablets or capsules (oral chemotherapy)
- By injection into a muscle (intramuscular) or under the skin (subcutaneous)
- By injection into the fluid around the spine and brain (intrathecal chemotherapy)
- Directly into a body cavity (intracavitary) for example, the bladder
- Directly to the skin as a cream for some skin cancers.
Sometimes treatment involves having chemotherapy in more than one way. For example, you may have chemotherapy into a vein and also take chemotherapy tablets.
For more support, visit the Macmillan Cancer Support page on Chemotherapy.
This video shows more about chemotherapy:
Watch a tour of the Colney Centre, which includes a tour around the Weybourne Day Unit, where you might have your treatment:
For further information on Chemotherapy, you can visit the Macmillan website.