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Chemotherapy| is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. They work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells.
Whether chemotherapy can be used, and the type of drugs used, will depend on where the cancer started in the body (the primary cancer). For example, if you have breast cancer| that has spread to the bones, you may have chemotherapy drugs that are used to treat breast cancer cells.
You will have the chemotherapy drugs given by injection into a vein (intravenously), as a drip (infusion) or by mouth (orally). Occasionally, the drugs are given into a vein in your chest through a soft plastic line called a central line|, or into a vein in your upper arm through a thin tube called a PICC line|.
Chemotherapy is usually given as a session of treatment. After each session you’ll usually have a rest period of a few weeks before the next session. This allows your body to recover from the side effects. The chemotherapy session and the rest period make up a cycle of treatment. Your doctor or nurse will explain how many cycles of treatment are planned for you and how you’ll be given your chemotherapy.
Many people are frightened by the idea of having chemotherapy because of the side effects that can occur. Chemotherapy can cause side effects, but these will depend on the drugs used. If you have any side effects, these can usually be well controlled with medicines that your doctor can prescribe.
Chemotherapy for secondary bone cancer aims to try to shrink the secondaries, improve symptoms and quality of life, and to extend life, if possible. For some people, the chemotherapy will help to shrink the cancer, leading to a reduction in the symptoms.
However, for others the chemotherapy won’t have any effect on the cancer, and they will have the side effects of the treatment with little benefit. Making decisions about treatment in these circumstances is always difficult, and you may need to discuss in detail with your doctor whether you wish to have chemotherapy. If you choose not to have it, you can still be given other treatments to control any symptoms you have.
The side effects of chemotherapy will depend on the drugs used. Some people have very few side effects, while others may experience more. Almost all side effects are short-term and gradually disappear once the treatment stops.
Common side effects may include:
It’s important to tell your doctor or chemotherapy nurse about any side effects you get. Medicines can usually be given to help control them, or changes may be made to your treatment to lessen them.
Our section on chemotherapy| gives more information about chemotherapy and its possible side effects. We also have information about individual chemotherapy drugs| and their side effects.
Content last reviewed: 1 December 2012
Next planned review: 2014
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If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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