Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. For stomach cancer it may be used on its own, or with surgery, radiotherapy or a targeted therapy drug.
When chemotherapy is used both before and after surgery, it is called perioperative chemotherapy. This treatment shrinks the tumour to make surgery more effective. This reduces the chance of the cancer coming back. You usually have chemotherapy for 2 to 3 months before the operation, and again for 2 to 3 months after it.
When chemotherapy is used after surgery, it is called adjuvant chemotherapy. Adjuvant chemotherapy may be given to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.
Chemotherapy can be used as the main treatment if the cancer:
- cannot be removed by surgery
- has spread to other parts of the body (advanced cancer).
You may have more than one course of chemotherapy. It can help control the cancer and reduce symptoms. Some people have a targeted therapy drug called trastuzumab as well as chemotherapy. You will have tests first to see if trastuzumab is a suitable treatment for you.
Usually, a combination of drugs is used to treat stomach cancer.
The treatments are named after the initials of the drugs included. Possible treatments include:
You will have scans to show how well the cancer is responding to treatment. If the cancer has not responded well enough, your doctor may decide to change your treatment to different chemotherapy drugs. For example, they may give you irinotecan, docetaxel or paclitaxel.
You usually have chemotherapy treatment in a chemotherapy day unit. This means you can go home on the same day. If you have it as an inpatient, you only need a short stay in hospital.
You have the chemotherapy drugs given into a vein (intravenously) or as tablets. Stomach cancer is sometimes treated with a combination of both.
We have more information about how chemotherapy is given.