What is it?

Cancer cells are cells that multiply uncontrollably. By administering chemotherapy or cytostatica, an attempt is made to stop the uncontrolled proliferation of the malignant cells. The objective of chemotherapy is to either destroy the cancer cells or to arrest their growth. Chemotherapy can be administered alone or in combination with a surgery or radiation.

Different forms

  • Oral pills
  • Intravenously
  • Subcutaneous injection
  • Pump to administer chemotherapy intravenously over the course multiple days

Chemotherapy cycles

With chemotherapy, it is important that it be administered at regular intervals. The treatments are provided in rounds. A round consists of a period during which chemotherapy is administered and then a rest period during which the body can regain its strength.

The treatment is often performed at the oncology day hospital. For some treatments, people need to be admitted for a few days and nights.

Example 1:

Chemotherapy followed by three weeks of rest, followed by chemotherapy (cycle 2). If this is repeated six times, then six cycles have been administered.

Example 2:

Chemotherapy on day one (cycle one, day one) and on day eight (cycle one, day eight), followed by two weeks of rest.

Re-evaluation while receiving chemotherapy

In some cases, it may be necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment. This usually is done with a scan, for example. Chest-Abdomen CT

When?

  • To stop the growth of metastases.
  • Prior to a surgery or radiation to reduce the size of a tumour: this is called a ‘neo-adjuvant’ treatment.
  • After surgery or radiation: in order to reach any residual cancer cells or cancer cells that have come loose (supplementary or adjuvant treatment).
  • In order to alleviate the pain, complaints or symptoms that are caused by advanced cancer (palliative treatment).

Possible side effects

The disadvantage of chemotherapy is that it can also affect healthy cells. Temporary side effects may arise. These vary from person to person. They depend on the type of medication, the quantity and the duration of the treatment.

The most common side effects are:

  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irritated mucosa (oral, etcetera)
  • Increased chance of infection and bleeding

Please see our specific chemotherapy leaflets for detailed information.

Centres and specialist areas

Breast Centre
Integrated Cancer Centre in Ghent

Latest publication date: 05/02/2021
Supervising author: Dr Elzo Kraemer Ximena