Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. They work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. The chemotherapy drugs are usually given by injection into a vein (intravenously). As the drugs circulate in the bloodstream, they can reach cancer cells all over the body.
Our section on chemotherapy discusses the treatment and its side effects in more detail. We also have information about individual drugs and their particular side effects.
Chemotherapy may be used before or after surgery or radiotherapy to try to make them more effective. Sometimes chemotherapy may be given at the same time as radiotherapy (a treatment known as chemo-radiotherapy), as they can be more effective when given together.
Chemotherapy may also be given to people whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body or whose cancer has come back after radiotherapy. It is used for people in this situation to try to shrink and control the cancer and relieve symptoms, or to try to prolong a good quality of life.
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Chemotherapy can cause some temporary side effects. These will gradually disappear after the treatment has finished. You may have some of those listed below: Lowered resistance to infection (neutroplasia) Chemotherapy can temporarily reduce the production of white blood cells in your bone marrow, making you more prone to infection.
Bruising or bleeding
The chemotherapy can reduce the production of platelets, which help the blood to clot. Let your doctor know if you have any unexplained bruising or bleeding, such as nosebleeds, blood spots or rashes on the skin, and bleeding gums.
Anaemia (low number of red blood cells)
While having chemotherapy you may become anaemic. This may make you feel tired and breathless. Blood transfusions may be given if you become anaemic due to chemotherapy.
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