What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs used in the treatment of cancer may be taken as tablets or, more commonly, given by intravenous drip directly into a vein
How can chemotherapy help me?
Chemotherapy can be used to:
- Destroy cancer cells.
- Stop cancer cells from spreading.
- Slow the growth of cancer cells.
Depending on individual factors such as the type of cancer, where it is and the person’s age and general health, chemotherapy may be used:
- As the only form of treatment
- Together with radiotherapy
- Before surgery to shrink the tumour
- After surgery to kill off any remaining cancer cells.
AIMS OF CHEMOTHERAPY
The major aims of chemotherapy are to:
- Cure the cancer or increase the chance of cure.
- Reduce symptoms and improve quality of life
- Improve survival.
WHERE CHEMOTHERAPY IS GIVEN?
Chemotherapy can be given to you as an inpatient (involving an overnight stay in hospital) or, more commonly, as an outpatient (day visit).
Your doctor may prescribe one or more drugs depending on the location, type and stage of the cancer. For example, a typical chemotherapy schedule for the treatment of breast cancer includes three different chemotherapy drugs.
HOW CHEMOTHERAPY IS GIVEN TO YOU?
The way chemotherapy is given depends on individual factors but may include:
- Injection into a vein (intravenous)
- Oral tablets or capsules.
- Very rarely chemotherapy may be given by injection into:
- The skin (subcutaneous)
METHODS OF ADMINISTRATION:
Chemotherapy is usually given intravenously, which means the drug or drugs are delivered into a vein. Different methods of administering intravenous chemotherapy include:
- Cannula-this is a thin plastic tube about 1.5cm long that is inserted into a vein in your arm or hand. The drug or drugs are given through an intravenous drip attached to the cannula. The cannula is removed once the drugs have been given.
- Central line –this may also be called a Hickman line, a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) or a ‘port’. It is a semipermanent ‘drip’ that goes into a large vein nearthe heart and can stay in for several months if necessary. These lines may be put in place, under local anaesthetic, while you are in the xray department (radiology), or in anoperating theatre under a general anaesthetic. A central line can be used to take blood, aswell as to give chemotherapy.
Central lines may be used if:
- You need chemotherapy continuously (for example, 24 hours a day, using a small portable pump)
- You are likely to need chemotherapy for a long time
- The chemotherapy might damage small veins
- It is difficult to put a cannula into your veins.
The central line is removed once your chemotherapy treatment is completed.
HOW WILL I FEEL DURING TREATMENT?
Each person and treatment is different, so it is not always possible to tell how you will feel. Some people feel well enough to keep their normal schedules at home or at work. Others feel more tired. Today many side effects can be prevented or Controlled.
When will I get chemotherapy?
You may get treatment every day, every week,or every month. The treatment period is followed by a period of rest when you won’t get chemotherapy. This rest period gives your body a chance to build healthy new cells.
SIDE EFFECTS OF CHEMOTHERAPY.
Not everyone experiences side effects.Side effects depend on the type of drug or drugs administered, the dose and frequency of treatment and on individual factors. Sideeffects can be mild or may be quite severe.It is important to discuss side effects with your doctor or chemotherapy nurses.
Side effects can be treated and there are also things that you can do to try to prevent or manage side effects. If side effects are severe, it may be necessary to have a break from treatment, to have a reduced dose, to change treatment or to stop all treatment.
Common side effects include:
- Loss of appetite
- Bowel changes such as diarrhoea or constipation
- Hair loss (called alopecia)
- Reduced levels of red and white blood cells and platelets
- Mouth ulcers or mouth infections
- Skin problems such as itchiness or extreme light sensitivity.