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What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy simply means ‘drug treatment’ and aims to cure cancer or relieve any symptoms that cancer can cause. It can be used alone, with surgery, with radiotherapy, or with surgery and radiotherapy.

How does chemotherapy work?

Chemotherapy either kills cancer cells or stops their ability to multiply. In the same way that different bacteria are sensitive to different antibiotics, different cancers are sensitive to different types of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy reaches the cancer cells through the blood stream and following each dose of chemotherapy a proportion of the cells will be destroyed. Usually, patients are given a number of cycles of chemotherapy in order to destroy as many of the cancer cells as possible, but the maximum benefit from the treatment is normally reached after 3-6 months.

As the number of cancer cells reduces, the natural defence mechanisms of your body may also play their part in destroying cancer cells.

How is chemotherapy given?

Because different cancers are sensitive to different chemotherapy drugs, everyone’s treatment is different. Sometimes the same drug or drug combination may be used for different people, but the dose is calculated for each individual.
We give chemotherapy in one or more of the following ways:

  • As a Bolus Injection into a small needle called a butterfly in a vein. Usually in the back of your hand or forearm, this is ideal for small volumes of fluid and takes approximately 5-10 minutes
  • As an Infusion through a plastic needle called a cannula into a vein. This is ideal for large volumes of fluid, which need to run over a few hours up to several days. You will only need to stay in hospital if the chemotherapy takes more than a few hours
  • As an Ambulatory Pump through a small pump into a central line (PICC or Hickman). This is ideal for small volumes of fluid that need to run continuously over a few days or a week and you can go home with this kind of device fitted
  • As tablets to take at home as part of your treatment plan. Your nurse will explain how and when to take them. Do not ask your GP for any more of these tablets
  • As an Injection into a muscle or into the tissue just underneath the skin
  • Into a Body Cavity such as the bladder or abdomen (belly, tummy)
  • As a Lumbar Puncture. This involves inserting a needle into your spine so that the drugs reach the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding your brain. We will give you a local anaesthetic beforehand so that any discomfort you may experience is minimal
  • As an Ointment applied directly to your skin

Your doctor will discuss with you the best way to give you your treatment.

Chemotherapy services at the Centre

At The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre we have two areas dedicated to the needs of chemotherapy patients: Sulby ward is for patients who need to stay in hospital for one night or more and Delamere Day Case Unit is for patients receiving their chemotherapy as an out-patient.

Our staff also delivers chemotherapy at 11 weekly satellite chemotherapy clinics in seven hospitals across the region. The nurse-led clinics allow patients to go to their local hospital for treatment rather than travelling to The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre.