What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is drug treatment for cancer i.e. the use of anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells in the body. This video describes the basics of cancer and chemotherapy.

  • Cancer is the uncontrolled division and growth of abnormal cells in the body.
  • Chemotherapy uses cytotoxic drugs to kill cancer cells.
  • Anti-cancer treatment has expanded beyond the use of cytotoxic chemotherapy to more advanced treatments such as hormone and targeted therapies.

Chemotherapy Information

Your treatment depends on the type of cancer, its severity, where it is located and also your general health. This series of videos covers the practical aspects of chemotherapy, including what to expect, the different types of chemotherapy, how chemotherapy can be given and other treatments.

  • COMBINATION, (NEO)ADJUVANT AND TARGETED THERAPIES

    The narrator describes other forms of cancer treatment and when chemotherapy is...

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  • CHEMOTHERAPY AND STEM CELL TRANSPLANTATION

    A description of the use high-dose chemotherapy together with stem cell...

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  • TREATMENT INTENT AND FREQUENCY & DURATION OF TREATMENT

    A video covering the difference between curing the disease and controlling the disease. It also...

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  • TYPICAL DAY IN OUTPATIENT CLINIC

    A description of what you may expect when receiving chemotherapy at an...

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  • TESTS WHEN YOU GO FOR CHEMOTHERAPY

    A video describing the role of the different tests you may receive before and when you receive...

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  • TYPES OF CHEMOTHERAPY & ADMINISTRATION

    A description of the different types of chemotherapy and how they are...

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  • INTRAVENOUS CHEMOTHERAPY

    A description of the various ways intravenous chemotherapy can be delivered....

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Side Effects

There are many different side-effects of chemotherapy, and it is highly unlikely you will experience them all; however there are ways to help cope and manage them. Most chemotherapy side-effects are temporary and disappear once your treatment is over. The videos below describe the most common side-effects associated with chemotherapy and give advice on dealing with them.

  • COMMON SIDE-EFFECTS

    The presenter gives a brief introduction into some of the side-effects that you may...

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  • FATIGUE

    A video describing how fatigue may affect you and how to manage this side-effect.

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  • INFECTIONS

    A video describing one of the more (potentially) serious side-effects and when to contact...

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  • HAIR LOSS

    The narrator discusses one of the most well-known side-effects of cancer treatment which...

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  • DIGESTIVE SYSTEM (DIARRHOEA, CONSTIPATION, MUCOSITIS, NAUSEA)

    The presenter describes common side-effects of the digestive system, methods to manage them...

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Daily Life

Chemotherapy can sometimes impact your sex life and fertility. It can affect men and women differently. Treatment can also affect your everyday life, relationships and ability to work. The videos below outline a number of key topics.

  • ADDITIONAL MEDICATIONS AND DRUG-DRUG INTERACTIONS

    The video describes various additional medications (i.e. complementary and alternative therapies...

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  • IMPACT ON DAILY LIFE

    The presenter discusses how chemotherapy can affect you both...

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  • SEXUAL FUNCTION & FERTILITY

    A video describing how chemotherapy can affect your sexual function...

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  • YOUR DIET

    A video providing some dietary advice whilst you are receiving treatment. This includes tips on...

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  • DEPRESSION

    The presenter describes how depression can be a common condition in patients with cancer.

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  • COMMUNICATIONS WITH YOUR DOCTOR & EMERGENCY CONTACTS

    The narrator discusses how you can get the most out of your visits to your doctor and treatment...

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FAQ's

How long will I need to receive chemotherapy?

A typical course of chemotherapy involves a number of treatment sessions or cycles and usually takes between 3 to 6 months.

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How long is a typical treatment session?

A single treatment administration session could last anywhere between a few minutes and several hours depending on which drug and the number of drugs you receive and how they are administered.

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What kind of chemotherapy will I receive? Am I likely to need a drip?

Chemotherapy drugs can be given in many different ways, and the method in which you receive chemotherapy is dependent on the drug used to treat the type of cancer you have, potential side effects of treatment and is also dependent on what stage your cancer is. The most common methods for receiving chemotherapy are intravenous injections and oral medication but can also be given by subcutaneous, intrathecal, or intracaviraty injections and topical ointments.
Depending on your particular treatment, intravenous chemotherapy can be given through different pieces of equipment such as a cannula or PICC line which are usually connected to a drip or a pump.

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Why do I need have blood tests before I start treatment?

Blood tests are performed to check the numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets and also to check your kidneys and liver are working well. If your blood cells numbers are too low, treatment may be delayed.
 

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I am feeling very tired after my treatment, is there anything that can done to help cope with this?

Brief periods of exercise can help build energy levels, for example small sessions of yoga have been shown to be beneficial. Other suggestions include simply walking the dog and going for leisurely strolls. Only do as much exercise as you want to do or can manage comfortably. Quite often the best thing to do is simply rest. Ask about available physiotherapist programmes and exercise groups for you to take part in.

 

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What should I do if I think I may an infection whilst on my treatment?

The best practice is to contact your doctor immediately or use the emergency contact number at any sign of infection; fevers are strongly associated with infections so it is important you inform your treatment team if you are developing a fever.

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Will my treatment cause hair loss?

Chemotherapy does not always cause hair loss. Some drugs cause only slight thinning of the hair and others do not cause hair loss at all. Your treatment team will make you aware of all possible side affects you may experience as a result of your treatment.

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Will my treatment make me feel sick?

Feeling sick from chemotherapy is another common side-effect, however not all chemotherapy drugs will make you feel that way. It is likely that if you feel sick after the first administration of your chemotherapy drug, you will feel that way after subsequent administrations. Your doctor will be able to prescribe additional medications to manage any nausea and/or vomiting.

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I am worried about my diarrhoea, when should I contact my doctor?

Diarrhoea can be a common-side effect of treatment; you must contact your doctor if you are also suffering from a fever or if your diarrhoea cannot be controlled with anti-diarrhoeals within 48 hours and also if you are having more than 6 episodes a day.

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I am having difficulty swallowing, what should I do?

You must contact the emergency number as soon as possible if you are unable to drink liquids. You may be prescribed strong painkillers if you are having difficulty eating and drinking. Maintaining good oral hygiene whilst you are receiving chemotherapy can help deal with sore mouth, your dentist may also be able to provide some additional advice.

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If I receive targeted therapy am I still likely to experience side effects?

You may experience some side-effects with targeted therapy but they are usually mild, although this is not always the case, and can go away once the body is used to the drug. The most common side-effects are allergic reactions such as rashes

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Am I allowed to take other medications?

You need to tell your doctor about any existing drugs you are taking or plan to take so they are aware of any potential interactions and can advise accordingly. These include medications for other diseases such as diabetes and various heart conditions but also over-the-counter vitamin, herbal or food supplements.

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Do I need to alter my diet whilst receiving my anti-cancer treatment?

It is important that you try to maintain a normal balanced healthy diet as you undergo your treatment. Your doctor or a dietician will give you the best advice and support when choosing and maintaining a healthy diet so you can keep your up strength during treatment.

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Glossary

Adjuvant

(therapy) is given in addition to the primary or initial therapy to maximise its effectiveness

Allogeneic

(transplant) uses stem cells from a donor

Alternative treatment

where alternative therapies (e.g. cannabis oil) are used instead of conventional treatments

Anaemia

is a condition that develops when your blood does not contain enough haemoglobin or healthy red blood cells

Autologous

(transplant) uses stem cells collected from the same individual

Biological therapy

involves the use of living organisms, substances derived from living organisms, or laboratory-produced versions of such substances to treat disease

Cannula

a thin hollow tube inserted into a vein or body cavity to administer medication, drain off fluid, or insert a surgical instrument

Central line

a long, thin hollow tube which is inserted into a vein in your chest

Chemotherapy

use of cytotoxic drugs to treat disease

Clinical trial

a research study with human patients or volunteers

Complementary treatment

treatments that are used alongside conventional treatment to help you feel better (e.g. yoga)

Cytotoxic

toxic to living cells

Drip

a device for administering a fluid drop-by-drop into a vein via an intravenous route

Endocrine therapy

[please see hormone therapy]

Haematological

related to blood

Haemoglobin

oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells

Hormone therapy

the use of hormones in medical treatment

Immunotherapy

treatment that boosts the body’s immune system to fight disease

Infusion pump

a medical device that delivers fluids, such as nutrients and medications, into a patient’s body in controlled amounts via a cannula or central line

Intracavitary

within a body cavity

Intramuscular

situated within a muscle

Intrathecal

In the fluid around the spine and brain

Intravenous

within the vein or veins

Neoadjuvant

(therapy) is the administration of therapeutic agents before a main treatment e.g. drug treatment before surgery

PICC

Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter - is an intravenous device that can be used for a prolonged period of time

Platelets

a blood component involved in clotting

Progressive disease

where a disease continues to worsen, grow or spread

Radiotherapy

treatment of disease using radiation e.g. X-rays

Rest period

the period of time between chemotherapy treatment sessions, to allow your body to recover

Stem cells

are cells of the body (somatic cells) which can divide and become differentiated

Subcutaneous

situated or applied under the skin

Topical

applied directly to a part of the body

Treatment cycle

a course of treatment that is repeated on a regular schedule with periods of rest in between. For example, treatment given for one week followed by three weeks of rest is one treatment cycle

Support

Cancer Advice

Cancer Research UK

Cancer Support France

Cancer Support UK

Macmillan Cancer Support

Maggies

Royal Marsden Cancer Charity

Shine Cancer Support

World Cancer Research Fund