Patient Care > Treatments > Cancer Drugs


Patient Care > Treatments > Cancer Drugs


During chemotherapy (or "chemo"), anti-cancer drugs destroy cancer cells. "Combination therapy" refers to the simultaneous administration of several drugs. There are times when only one drug is used. The use of chemotherapy may precede or follow surgery or radiation therapy, or it may be combined with radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy will be administered differently depending on the type of cancer treated and the drugs administered. A variety of treatment options are available, including:

  • Orally
  • By inserting a needle into a vein, the medication is slowly injected through a catheter (a special tube), which is inserted into a large vein, usually in the neck or chest, and remains there throughout the course of the treatment
  • Using a cream applied to the skin, drugs can be introduced directly into an organ or tissue affected by cancer.

A needle inserted into a vein may feel like giving blood, but chemotherapy should not cause discomfort. There may be discomfort associated with the initial injection of a temporary tube (cannula). If a chemotherapy injection hurts or burns, you should inform the nurse immediately.

The chemotherapy unit should be contacted as soon as possible if you notice some tenderness developing at the injection site following your treatment.

The following are reasons why chemotherapy may be used:

  • In some types of cancer, chemotherapy is used to cure the disease by killing all the cancer cells
  • To reduce the risk of the cancer returning, chemotherapy may be administered after surgery or radiation therapy. This is to destroy any remaining cancer cells that are too small to see
  • To shrink cancer before surgery or radiation therapy, thereby increasing the effectiveness of your primary treatment
  • Cancer can be reduced in size, symptoms can be improved, and life can be prolonged in cases where a cure is not possible

Chemotherapy duration will vary depending on your type of cancer, how it responds to treatment, and how well you tolerate it. Your doctor will determine how long the course of treatment will last.

It is common to have several rounds of treatment followed by rest periods to allow normal cells time to recover. They can be administered over days, weeks, or months, and some may be administered for an extended period.

A person may undergo maintenance chemotherapy to prevent cancer from returning and palliative treatment to control cancer. These treatments may last for months or even years.

Talk to your treatment team if you are concerned about the treatment's duration or the impact of the side effects.

Outpatient chemotherapy is usually administered in a hospital or treatment centre during the day. A short hospital stay may be necessary if chemotherapy treatment is longer or more complex. You may be able to receive chemotherapy treatment at home in some cases.

Chemotherapy can cause side effects in some individuals but not in all. There are different side effects associated with other chemotherapy drugs. These conditions are usually temporary and can be treated or managed.

The following are possible side effects:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea or constipation (often due to anti-nausea medication)
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • anaemia
  • mouth sores or ulcers
  • increased risk of infection
  • increased risk of bruising
  • hair loss
  • muscle weakness
  • skin sensitivity to sunlight (specific drugs only)
  • changes to the nails
  • dry or tired eyes
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in fertility
  • thinking and memory changes

There is no correlation between the presence of any of the above side effects and the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Please consult your physician if you have any concerns or questions.