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Children's Hospital and Woman's Hospital
When is chemotherapy required?
Chemotherapy is administered in different ways and for various reasons:
- Before surgery or radiotherapy to reduce tumours.
- After surgery or radiotherapy to eliminate cancer cells.
- As a treatment, for instance in cancers of the blood or lymphatic system.
- As a treatment for recurrent cancer.
- To treat cancer that is spreading throughout the body, metastatic cancer.
How does chemotherapy work?
The human body is made up of different cells that each have a certain function. Cancer begins when a group of cells reproduces very quickly and uncontrollably. This affects the cells’ function and, therefore, stops the body functioning normally.
Chemotherapy acts on these cells, which may or may not be cancerous, that are rapidly reproducing. This causes side effects, which will depend on the medication, dose, duration and each individual person.
Chemotherapy can be intravenous or oral, meaning it can be administered by the vein or by the mouth. The first option is the most common.
To administer this treatment, sometimes a catheter is left in place that is then connected to a disc below the skin. The medication is administered through this device. This catheter is called a port-a-cath, although there are more types of catheters. The way the vein is accessed depends on the characteristics of the person and the duration of the treatment.
Chemotherapy is applied at intervals and the duration depends on the type of programme, control and treatment.
Chemotherapy can produce the following side effects:
- Risk of infections, bruising easily, bleeding, feeling of weakness and fatigue, as it acts on the blood cells
- Hair loss, change of colour or consistency of hair, as it acts on the roots of hair.
- Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty in eating and sores in the mouth and lips, as it acts on the cells of the digestive tract.