Chemotherapy uses strong substances in the form of pills, injections or a drip into a vein to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs interrupt cell development, so they wind up killing large numbers of cells, both cancerous ones and healthy ones. Many “regular” body cells (like the bone marrow and the lining of the intestine and mouth) break up quickly and are thus exposed to cancer drugs, giving rise to many of the side effects of chemotherapy.

Most chemotherapy is given as outpatient treatment, either as a brief injection into a vein
or as an intravenous drip over an hour or so.

It seldom entails remaining in hospital overnight. Determined by the kind of cancer being treated, chemotherapy is typically given once every three or four weeks, but some treatments may be given weekly. You’ll likely receive 6-8 classes of treatment, and treatment generally lasts 5-6 months.

Hormonal drugs

For specific kinds of cancer, specific hormonal drugs may be used. Among the best known of these drugs is tamoxifen, which is used to block the effect of oestrogen, implicated in the development of specific tumours (and particularly in breast cancer). In women with a family history of breast cancer, tamoxifen may be given as a preventative measure, but the dangers haven’t yet been completely investigated.

In chemotherapy, cancer cells are killed off quicker than ordinary cells, until no cancer cells are detectable.