Chemotherapy for young people

Types of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy or 'chemo', is the most common form of cancer treatment. Chemo uses drugs called cytotoxics to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells.

The thing is, while chemotherapy drugs can stop cancer cells growing and multiplying, they also affect normal, healthy cells in the process. That’s why fast growing cells such as the ones in your hair and inside your mouth are damaged by chemotherapy.

The most effective way of killing cancer through chemotherapy is by using a number of different drugs rather than relying on one.

Each period of chemotherapy treatment is called a cycle. After each cycle there is usually a rest period, so that normal cells repair themselves and the body begins to regain its strength.

How is chemotherapy administered?

  • Chemo medications can be given in a variety of ways, depending on the type of cancer you have and the chemotherapy drugs used
  • Most often chemotherapy is given by injection into a vein. This is known as intravenous chemotherapy
  • Some drugs are given as tablets or capsules (oral chemotherapy)
  • Some are injected into a muscle (intramuscular injection)
  • Others may be injected just under the skin (subcutaneous injection).

Chemotherapy treatments

Chemotherapy treatments can be given daily, weekly or monthly. Treatment can last for only a few weeks, a few months or up to 3 years. It depends on the type of cancer.

Side effects of chemotherapy

Your body will react to all the different treatments that you may receive. Some of the side effects of chemotherapy are:

  • Cognitive changes - cognitive changes (also known as “chemo brain”) are problems with thinking, memory and behaviour
  • Fatigue - feeling tired and not having your usual 'get up and go' is the most common side effect of chemotherapy
  • Nausea and vomiting - not everyone feels sick or nauseous with treatment, but many do. If nausea does occur, it usually happens a few hours after chemotherapy. There are lots of options (including medications) to help control nausea. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you are feeling sick
  • Changes to your body image - body image refers to the way people see themselves physically, and how they thinks others see them. Sometimes physical changes (like hair loss or weight changes) can have a big emotional impact
  • Hair loss - some chemotherapy medications and local radiotherapy treatments stop hair being produced. It's the most obvious side effect, and it's probably the thing that most people worry about. Your hair will grow back after the chemotherapy
  • Weight gain or loss - cancer and treatments can often have an impact on weight. The changes are often quite small, but large fluctuations in weight can occur.