John Flynn Private Hospital
Part of Ramsay Health Care

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy medication is given to treat cancer. It can be derived from natural resources like a tree or be man-made. There are many different types of chemotherapy drugs. The type and dose of chemotherapy will depend on your cancer.

Will I be unwell while having chemotherapy? Chemotherapy works by killing fast growing cells in your body. This includes cancer cells but also includes other fast growing cells such as blood cells, the lining of the mouth, gut and bowel and your skin. These good cells recover but the cancer cells do not.

The most common side effects of treatment are:

  • Lowered blood counts or reduced immunity.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Sore mouth (mouth ulcers, thrush and inflamed gums).
  • Fatigue.
  • Hair loss.

Cancer cells repair slower than normal cells, therefore, by the next treatment cycle, the body's normal cells (Red Blood Cells, White Cells and Platelets) have recovered but the cancer cells have not.
Chemotherapy can be given in many different ways, these include

  • Intrathecal or Intraventricular
  • Tablets.
  • Through a vein via an injection
  • Injection under the skin (subcutaneous).

Chemotherapy is frequently given in cycles with rest periods in between to allow normal cells to recover. Some chemotherapy cycles may take half an hour to complete while some may take several days to finish.