Chemotherapy concerns the use of special cytotoxic drugs to treat cancers by either killing the cancer cells or slowing their growth.
Chemotherapy drugs travel around the body and attack rapidly growing cells. As cancer cells multiply very fast, they are targeted by the drugs and are destroyed. In addition, other normal cells that grow rapidly are also recognised by chemotherapy and killed. However, the breaks between bouts of chemo allow your body to regenerate normal cells and recover before the next course.
To travel the body, chemotherapy needs to enter the bloodstream and the quickest way to do this is intravenously.
Some cancers can be treated or cured by chemotherapy alone, while others may require a combination of chemotherapy with surgery and/or radiotherapy; this is known as adjuvant therapy. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy can be used before the main treatment, this can decrease the size of the tumour, but also allows time for genetic testing and planning of surgery.
The most common side effects of chemotherapy are nausea and vomiting, fatigue (tiredness), alopecia (hair loss), muscular, nerve and blood effects, as well as bowel (constipation or diarrhoea) and oral problems. These side effects vary from treatment to treatment and from person to person, but fortunately these problems may disappear with time or be managed to reduce the impact that they may cause.