Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells in your body. It can be used both before and after surgery and is sometimes given at the same time as radiotherapy. Because cancer cells can break away from the main tumour, circulate round the body and start forming a secondary cancer somewhere else, doctors often recommend chemotherapy to give you the best chance of eliminating all these cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is normally given as a course of treatment lasting several months. In many cases, chemotherapy will be given on certain days with a gap before it is restarted. This allows your body to recover between the doses.
You should discuss with your doctor how long the course will be and whether it can be adjusted - or example, if you have particular commitments on fixed dates.
Your doctors will recommend a drug or sometimes a mix of drugs for you, taking into account your type of cancer, how advanced it is and your general health. The chemotherapy drug will be mixed specially for you and will be given either intravenously, as an injection or as pills or capsules.
Before your treatment starts you are likely to have a number of tests, including blood tests and specialist ones looking at liver and kidney function. This is to give your doctors a baseline so they can see how the chemotherapy is affecting your body. These tests may be repeated several times during your course of treatment.
Most chemotherapy will be given as a day case in hospital. You should expect to be at the hospital for some hours and might want to bring a book! The treatment itself should be comfortable and you will be well looked after. Usually you are able to go home on the same day but occasionally chemotherapy can require an overnight or longer stay in hospital. Your doctor will discuss this with you in advance. In some cases, we may be able to deliver ongoing chemotherapy treatment in your home.
Very occasionally your treatment may have to be delayed because blood or other tests indicate you are not ready to receive another dose. Normally you would be asked to come back a few days later so you can be retested and the chemotherapy restarted.
You have probably heard a great deal about the side-effects of chemotherapy. While many people do suffer side-effects, these are often mild and can usually be controlled. Your doctors and nurses will always discuss the potential side-effects with you and will help you to cope with them.
Side-effects can include:
- nausea and sickness
- soreness in your mouth and a change in your sense of taste
- increased vulnerability to infection due to the effect of the chemotherapy on your bone marrow
- hair loss
- skin changes
- changes to the liver, kidney, heart and lung function - but your doctors are likely to be monitoring these very carefully.
Ramsay hospitals offers a range of screening and diagnostic procedures at a time convenient to you, and also offers treatment for some of the most common types of cancer. We offer the support of multi-disciplinary teams who will be working together to ensure you get the care which is right for you.
If you would like to discuss possible tests or treatment contact us.