What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy treatment is a term that we use to describe a number of different drugs. Many drugs are used for different types of cancers and can be effective for different types of conditions. They can be given either as drips or intravenous infusions or as tablets. Chemotherapy drugs target cells which are dividing rapidly, which is what characterises many different types of cancer.
We have created a film to explain our cancer services and the care you may receive from us. View the video.
When chemotherapy may be given
There are 3 main situations when chemotherapy is given to patients:
before an operation, to allow the surgeon to have a better chance of removing a cancer
after an operation, usually to prevent the cancer coming back again in the future
to control the cancer and shrink it down.
If chemotherapy is recommended
If the decision is made for you to have chemotherapy, you will first meet your oncologist (doctor trained in the use of radiotherapy and chemotherapy) who will describe what the chemotherapy involves, what the benefits of the chemotherapy are and what the potential side-effects may be.
You will be given an information sheet to take home and discuss it with your family and friends. Then on a separate occasion, if you decide to go ahead, you can come back to sign a consent form for the chemotherapy treatment.
After the consent form has been signed, you will meet with a specialist chemotherapy nurse who, will go over any further questions that you might have about chemotherapy. He/she will also give you details about who to contact if there are any problems while you are receiving treatment.
Monitoring patients during treatment
We monitor patients very carefully throughout their course of chemotherapy, both for the safety of the treatment, but also to make sure that the drugs and treatments we are giving are actually working against the cancer. You will have regular checkups with your oncologists as well as the chemotherapy nurses. You will also usually have regular scans throughout your course of treatment.
Most chemotherapy drugs can cause side-effects, but for most patients we are able to prevent problems from happening in the first place by giving anti sickness medications and other treatments that prevent recognisable problems.
How chemotherapy can be given
Chemotherapy can be given in a number of different ways depending on what type of treatment is given to the patient. In most situations, you will receive chemotherapy as an outpatient and don’t need to actually be admitted to hospital.
Usually chemotherapy is given in what we term ‘cycles’, which means that you come back every 2-3 weeks to the chemotherapy department to have your treatment.
The treatment can consist of tablet therapy, but equally can be given in a form of intravenous chemotherapy which is treatment given via a drip into a vein.
The length of time that you spend on the chemotherapy unit will depend very much on the type of chemotherapy you are receiving. Some patients just pick up tablets and it’s a very short visit, while for others, patients may be on the chemotherapy unit for the whole day.
Support for you
You will have a lot of support throughout your course of treatment. You will usually have a key worker, which is most often a nurse, who you can call during working hours. There is also a 24 hour emergency line that you can always call if you run into serious problems at home.
Also see our support section.