Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment, with medicine used to kill cancer cells.

Itkills the Predictive genetic test for cancer risk genes cellsby damaging them, so theycan't reproduce and spread.

Whychemotherapy is used

Chemotherapy is used if a cancer has spread or if there's arisk thatit will. The main aim of treatment may be:

  • to try to cure cancer completely this is known as curative chemotherapy
  • to help make other treatments more effective for example, chemotherapy can be combined with radiotherapy (where radiation is used to kill cancerous cells), or it can be used before surgery
  • to reduce the risk of the cancer returning after radiotherapy or surgery
  • to relieve symptoms a cure may not be possiblefor advanced cancer, but chemotherapy may be used to relieve the symptoms and slow it down; this is known as palliative chemotherapy

Less commonly, chemotherapy is used to treat non-cancerous conditions. For example, low doses have been used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis .

How chemotherapy is used

There aremany different types of chemotherapy medication, but they all work in much the same way. Depending on the type of cancer you have, you may be treated with one medicine (monotherapy) or with a combination of medicines (combination therapy).

There are several ways in which chemotherapy medication can be given, including tablets and injections directly into a vein.

The team caring for you will help come up with a treatment plan for your specific circumstances.

The medicines used in chemotherapy can't distinguish between fast-growing cancer cells and other types of fast-growing cells, such as blood cells,skin cells and the cells inside the stomach.

This means that mostchemotherapy medications have a poisonous effect on the body's cells, causing problemsincluding:

  • feeling tired and weak all the time
  • feeling and being sick
  • hair loss

Some people onlyhave minimal side effects,butfor most people,a course of chemotherapy can be unpleasant and upsetting.

Living with and adapting to the side effects of chemotherapy can be challenging. However, it's important to realise that most, if not all, side effects will disappear once thetreatment is complete.

There is no risk of the side effects of chemotherapy being passed to other people, including children and pregnant women, if they are in close contact with someone having chemotherapy.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 4 Jan 2017