What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a term that we use to describe treatment that involves 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 that are dividing rapidly. This is what happens in many different types of cancer.
When chemotherapy may be given
There are three 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 and will be asked to sign a consent form for the for the chemotherapy treatment. If you would like to discuss the treatment with your family and friends, the consent appointment may be on a separate occasion.
If you decide to have chemotherapy, you will meet with a specialist chemotherapy nurse who, will go over any further questions that you might have about chemotherapy. They will also give you details about how to manage chemotherapy symptoms and who to contact if there are any problems while you are receiving treatment.
Monitoring patients during treatment
We will monitor you very carefully throughout your chemotherapy to confirm that the treatments we are giving you are safe and working against your 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 by giving anti-sickness medications and other treatments.
How chemotherapy can be given
Chemotherapy can be given in a number of different ways depending on the type of treatment. In most situations, you will receive chemotherapy as an outpatient and will not need to be admitted to hospital.
Usually, chemotherapy is given in ‘cycles’. This means that you will come back every two to three weeks to the chemotherapy department to have your treatment.
The treatment may consist of tablet therapy or 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 need to make a short visit to pick up their tablets. Other patients may need to be treated at the hospital all day.
Treatment in the chemotherapy village
You may be able to have your treatment in the Chemotherapy Village as a one stop or two stop service.
Two stop treatment
This involves two visits for each treatment. The first visit is for blood tests (taken in the Welcome Village) and for the doctor to review you and prescribe your treatment. The second visit (normally two days later) involves a visit to the Chemotherapy Village to have your treatment.
- less waiting around for your treatment
- greater choice of appointments
- two visits to the hospital.
One stop treatment
You may be offered a one stop service, depending on your treatment. This allows you to see the doctor and have your treatment on the same day. We aim to start your treatment within three hours of you having a blood test (in the Welcome Village). The doctor will assess you, review your blood results (when these are available) and prescribe your treatment. The prescription is next checked by a pharmacist. The drugs are dispensed by the pharmacy team, who make up the drugs. The drugs are sent to the Chemotherapy Village in time for your appointment.
- less travelling to hospital
- fewer days spent at the hospital.
- more time at the hospital on the day of treatment.
If you are interested in finding out more about the one stop service, please speak to your doctor who prescribes your treatment or the Chemotherapy Village team.