What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy may help to control or slow the growth of the melanoma.

The most commonly used drug to help to treat advanced melanoma is dacarbazine (DTIC). It is used either on its own or with a combination of other chemotherapy drugs.

You will be given chemotherapy at the hospital as an outpatient, so you can normally go home on the same day. Usually, you will have the chemotherapy drugs as an injection into your vein (intravenously) or occasionally by mouth (orally).

Throughout your treatment you may have some side effects, but these can usually be controlled with medicines and they usually go away once treatment finishes. Different chemotherapy drugs cause different side effects. Your doctor or nurse will tell you what to expect before your treatment starts.

It’s advisable not to become pregnant or father a child while having chemotherapy. Some women may find that chemotherapy brings on an early menopause. You should talk to your doctor or nurse if you are concerned about contraception or your fertility during treatment.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy may help to control or slow the growth of the melanoma for a time. Your cancer specialist will explain more about the possible benefits and side effects.

There are several chemotherapy drugs that may be used to treat advanced melanoma. The most commonly used drug is called dacarbazine (DTIC). It can be used alone or occasionally in combination with other drugs.

How chemotherapy is given

You usually have chemotherapy drugs as an injection into a vein (intravenously), or occasionally by mouth (orally). You may be given a single drug or a combination of drugs. Your chemotherapy will usually be given to you as an outpatient, which means you can go home on the same day. Occasionally you may have your chemotherapy during a short stay in hospital.


Side effects

Chemotherapy drugs may cause unpleasant side effects, but these can usually be well controlled with medicines and will usually go away once treatment has finished. Not all drugs cause the same side effects and some people may have very few. You can talk to your doctor or nurse about what to expect from the treatment that’s planned for you.


Contraception

Condoms should be used if you have sex within the first 48 hours after chemotherapy. This is to protect your partner from any of the drug that may be present in semen or vaginal fluid. It’s not advisable to become pregnant or father a child while having chemotherapy, because the drugs may harm the developing baby. For this reason, your doctor will advise you to use a reliable method of contraception (usually barrier methods such as condoms or the cap) throughout your treatment and for a few months afterwards. You can discuss this with your doctor or nurse.


Fertility

Your ability to become pregnant or father a child may be affected by chemotherapy. It’s important to discuss fertility with your doctor or nurse before starting treatment. 

Some women may find that chemotherapy treatment brings on an early menopause. They may have signs of the menopause, such as hot flushes and sweats. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be given to replace hormones that are no longer being produced. You may find it helpful to talk this through with your cancer specialist.

We have more information on fertility.


Back to Chemotherapy explained

Your feelings

You may experience difficult feelings while having chemotherapy treatment. Talking these over can be helpful.

Where can you have chemotherapy?

You usually have chemotherapy in a chemotherapy day unit or clinic. If your treatment is more complex, you may need to stay in hospital.

Who might I meet?

A team of medical specialists will be involved throughout the course of your chemotherapy treatment.