Chemotherapy is the use of chemicals or drugs (cytotoxic agents) in the treatment of cancer.
Chemotherapy can be given to a patient by:
- Mouth - a few drugs are given as tablets or capsules
- Intramuscularly - a few drugs are given by injection into a muscle or under the skin
- Intravenously - most of the drugs are given by an injection into the forearm or the back of the hand. A small needle is put through the skin into a vein and a drug solution injected slowly. The drug is distributed throughout the body via the blood stream.
Depending on which hospital you have your chemotherapy at, you may have the option to receive your medication in your own private room, complete with en-suite facilities and satellite TV. Where private rooms are not available, you will have your treatment in a joint room with other chemotherapy patients. Your specialist may also consider radiotherapy as part of your ongoing treatment.
Chemotherapy treatment is tailored to meet your individual needs. The nurses involved in your care have many years of experience in treatment of cancer (oncology) and a pharmacist is also available to answer any questions that you may have regarding your medication. If you are currently taking any medication, you should bring this to the hospital with you.
Before you start your treatment your specialist will explain the benefits and limitations of chemotherapy. They will also discuss with you, what, if any, side effects you may experience. Together, you and your specialist will decide whether you should have your treatment at the Hospital or whether you can be treated at home.
Prior to receiving chemotherapy you may need to have a blood test. The bone marrow is where the body makes the cells that circulate in the blood. Frequently the cells that fight infection, carry oxygen and help the blood to clot, are damaged by chemotherapy. This damage is generally temporary. If this is going to happen, it will usually be a week after your treatment, so a blood test is needed before each session to ensure that your blood cells are at a safe level to continue treatment. If your cells are too low, chemotherapy may be delayed for a week or the dose of drugs reduced.
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