What is Chemotherapy?

18th Jan 2017

what is it?

Chemotherapy is the general term for a number of cancer treatments. Different cancers require different drugs or sometimes a combination of many. Chemotherapy can be administered as an IV, as a pill or an injection into a vain, depending on the type of drug and circumstances of a patient. 

The purpose of these drugs is to poison the fast-reproducing cancer cells and thus to stop the cancer from growing and spreading. Chemotherapy is used in four different ways. It could be used as an attempt to cure the cancer completely, as part of a combination treatment, together with radiotherapy or surgery. It is also aimed at preventing the cancer from returning after radiotherapy or surgery and as a cancer symptoms relief, if a case is too advanced to be cured. 

Chemotherapy can also be used in small quantities to treat other conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. 

what are the side-effects?

Chemotherapy is known for having many side-effects. It cannot distinguish between the fast-reproducing cancer cells and some healthy cells in the body. White blood cells protect the body from infection. During chemo, their number decreases and with it the natural immunity towards infections. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, and a lower number of them, known as anaemia, leads to fatigue. Platelets are structures in the blood that help stop bleeding. Bruising and bleeding can be a side-effect of chemo as a result. Chemotherapy also affects hair follicles and the cells lining the stomach, leading to hair loss, vomiting and diarrhoea respectively. 

It is often administered several times over a few weeks or months. This is known as a course of treatment, made up of different cycles. This is done because of the side-effects caused by the treatment and gives time to the body to recover the healthy cells that were affected by the drug/drugs. Sometimes the side-effects of chemotherapy could prevent the patient to be on the scheduled regimen or interfere with the dosage. In this case, taking extra steps in order to manage those could be helpful for the successful and timely completion of the treatment.

What is chemotherapy

what is chemotherapy like?

Not everyone reacts in the same way to chemotherapy. What one person could go through, another can have a completely different experience depending on a number factors including their age, fitness, treatment length, type of chemo, dosage and even their mind set. Here are some former patients experiences of chemotherapy:

Todd - “I took a physical and mental knock. The surgery healed quickly, but chemotherapy is no fun whatsoever. A single dose made it difficult for me to do two things that I'm usually pretty good at - eating and sleeping - and I am in awe of how tough the people are who have to keep going back for dose after dose.”

Fiona - “It was tough going through the chemo regime. But I met loads of great people at the Beatson suffering the same thing as me and we would have a laugh to help us get through it. You just have to make sure you don’t let it get you down – positive thinking has positive results.

tips for managing side-effects

- Tiredness from chemo can actually be managed through moderate exercise like a walk once a day. Also, making an effort to get enough sleep and go to bed and get up at the same time every day can make a difference. 

- Sickness can be managed with anti-sickness medicines, which are quite effective. It is also normal not to have an appetite for the first few days after the treatment, but it isvery important to stay hydrated. 

- A low count of white blood cells will weaken your immune system, making it prone to infection. This can be avoided with a flu vaccination, to lower the risk of getting an easily transmitted virus.

- Some drugs can make your hair fall out, so looking into wig options could be a way to manage this distressing side effect. Give our team a call on 0141 212 0505 to find out  our free wig fitting and supply service. 

If you've gone through Chemotherapy we'd love to hear your tips and advice on how your got through your treatment. Just email us at

Find out more about the services we provide to patients at The Beatson here.