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What is Chemotherapy?
The word Chemotherapy simply means "drug treatment." The treatment is carried out with one or more drugs that kill cancer cells or make them less active.
Chemotherapy can be given with a single drug or in combination of multiple drugs, depending on the type of cancer being treated. The aim of the treatment will depend on the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is.
How does Chemotherapy work?
Healthy body cells divide and reproduce in an orderly and controlled manner; however in cancer cells, this process occurs without proper control.
The Chemotherapy drugs enter the blood stream and travel around the body. Chemotherapy works by interfering with processes inside the cells, damaging them so that they cannot divide and grow properly and therefore leading the cancer cells to die. Chemotherapy can also affect healthy cells which are dividing and growing quickly and it is because of this that people can experience side effects. These side effects are usually temporary because healthy cells recover quicker than cancerous cells, and permanent damage is rare with most Chemotherapy treatments.
How is Chemotherapy carried out?
Most commonly, Chemotherapy is given to the patient:
Sometimes, Chemotherapy needs to be administered through a "PICC" line (a small tube that is put into a large vein in your chest or arm, so blood samples can be taken and medicines and fluids given easily, it can stay in place for a long period of time) or a Chemo port. The Consultant will discuss various modalities in detail with you.
Is Chemotherapy painful?
Chemotherapy should not be painful. If you feel any pain or unusual sensation during the treatment, please inform the staff immediately. If the injection site is painful, sore or red when you are at home, please contact your Consultant for advice as soon as possible.
How do I go about getting the treatment?
Where you have your treatment will depend on which Chemotherapy drug(s) you are receiving. The amount of time taken to give the Chemotherapy can vary from a few hours to several days.
Most Chemotherapy can be given in less than a day so people can be treated as an outpatient or a day case. Sometimes, it is necessary to stay in the hospital overnight for your first Chemotherapy treatment; you will then receive the rest of your treatment as an out or day patient.
If your treatment involves several days of Chemotherapy and / or extra fluid, you will probably have to stay in hospital for a few days. If this is the case it will be explained to you before you commence your treatment.
What happens on the first day of my treatment?
On the first day of your treatment, a Chemotherapy counsellor will explain in great detail about the treatment and its side effects (which may occur). It is advisable that you eat and drink normally on your treatment day as well.
Is routine blood test necessary during the treatment?
Before each cycle of treatment you will need to have a routine blood test. We call this Complete Blood Count (CBC) test. This means we are looking at the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and blood cells called platelets in the blood.
All these blood cells are made in the bone marrow and Chemotherapy can affect the bone marrow causing a temporary fall in the number of these cells. Sometimes it may be necessary to delay your treatment by one or two weeks if your blood count has not returned to normal following the last cycle of Chemotherapy. We need to check that your blood count is normal before you have your next cycle of Chemotherapy.
A Complete Blood Count (CBC) blood test needs to be done before each cycle of Chemotherapy.
Your doctor will monitor your progress throughout your treatment. There are several tests which may be repeated during your treatment including Urea & Electrolytes (U&E's), Liver Function Tests (LFT's), Scans, X-rays and other Blood Tests. These are done to check on your health and see the way the Chemotherapy is affecting you. These will vary from person to person, depending on the diagnosis and Chemotherapy treatment.
What are the precautions I need to take to avoid infection during the treatment?
We advise you to:
If you are at particular risk of an infection, due to the type of Chemotherapy you are receiving, you may be given "preventative" antibiotics. These should help protect you from the most common infections. Please ensure you take them regularly as directed.
The signs of an infection are:
If you have other signs of infection, such as urine infection or if you have a "central line" / PICC and the site looks red and feels hot.
Contact your Oncologist immediately
What are the steps I need to take when it comes to food?
We advise you to:
What are the side effects of Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy affects some of the normal cells and thus, may cause some side effects. The side effects you experience will depend on the particular drug or combination of drugs you receive. Some people do not get any side effects, but if you experience any, please inform your Consultant.
Some of the common and possible side effects are listed below:
Sometimes, Chemotherapy can cause a sore or dry mouth and / or mouth ulcers. If the Chemotherapy causes the lining of your mouth and throat to become sore, or ulcerated, we would recommend you to:
If the soreness fails to clear up quickly or you have problems eating and drinking normally, please contact your Consultant.
Some people while having Chemotherapy experience a change in their taste of food. This is usually temporary. You may find that you no longer enjoy certain foods; all foods may taste the same or you may experience a metallic taste in your mouth and sometimes you may find you can taste nothing at all.
Nausea and Vomiting
Chemotherapy may cause you to feel sick, but not necessarily to vomit, although this can occur. You will be given anti-sickness medication prior to your treatment and also to take home.
We advise you to:
If vomiting persists for more than 24 hours, please contact your Consultant.
Diarrhoea and Constipation
Some Chemotherapy can cause a change in bowel habit, which can usually be managed by diet and /or medication
If your normal bowel habit changes and constipation persists, contact your Consultant.
Hair usually begins to fall out approximately 10 - 14 days post your treatment starts, but sometimes this can happen sooner.
When Chemotherapy is injected intravenously, the veins can sometimes become hardened and sore or darker in colour. The veins will usually return to normal form gradually. We can continue your treatment using other veins or a PICC / Chemo port.
Fatigue is very common during Cancer and its treatment. Doing light exercise can help you in tackling with the feeling of fatigue.
Other Possible Side Effects
These only occur with certain drugs and may include:
If there is a likelihood of any of these side effects in your treatment, you will be informed about it beforehand.
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