Chemotherapy and other drug therapies

Chemotherapy Service

Chorley Chemotherapy Service

Our £2m chemotherapy service opened at Chorley & South Ribble Hospital in July 2017, which means more patients can now receive care closer to home.  Thank you to the Witches of Adlington and Rosemere Cancer Foundation for their generous donations, which has helped fund this new facility.

Drug treatment for cancer includes :

  • chemotherapy
  • biological therapy
  • hormone therapy

How chemotherapy is used

Chemotherapy is a type of treatment that uses medicine to kill cancer cells.  It is usually given by an infusion directly into a vein, or in tablet form.

There are four main ways chemotherapy is used :

  • to try to cure cancer completely - this is curative chemotherapy
  • to help make other treatments more effective - for example combined with radiotherapy (concurrent), or before surgery (neoadjuvant)
  • to relieve symptoms - a cure may not be possible for advanced cancer but chemotherapy may be used to relieve symptoms and slow the spread of the illness - this is palliative chemotherapy
  • to reduce the risk of cancer returning after surgery or radiotherapy (adjuvant)

How chemotherapy works

Chemotherapy works to kill dividing cells. Side-effects occur because some of our organs like the bone-marrow and gut contain cells which are rapidly dividing too.

Side effects

The problem for many patients is that the word itself may cause anxiety because of what people have heard about side effects. It is true that sometimes the side-effects are very severe, but this is quite rare in practice. There are many different chemotherapy regimes all with different degrees of side effects, and some with almost none. Side-effects are reducing all the time with newer drugs and better ways to treat problems such as nausea and sickness, which are now very uncommon.

Because someone you know or have heard about has had bad side effects does not mean that you or your relative will experience them, and these will be discussed with you by an experienced doctor and nurse.  You will usually have a choice about your actual drug regime and the possible side effects.

The most common side effect is tiredness. The most serious is impaired immunity leading to an increased risk of infection for some chemotherapy. Other common side-effects include hair loss in some cases.

There is a 24 hour Chemotherapy helpline available to provide advice

01772 523205

between 12 and 4pm Monday to Friday this is an answering machine service

However if urgent a pager service is in operation

07659 536 133

Will all cancer patients receive chemotherapy?

In many cases Chemotherapy is not necessary because the tumour has been completely removed and the risk of future recurrence or secondary spread is small or non-existent.

Chemotherapy is used where the disease is widespread, or where the risk of recurrence or secondary spread is high.

Unfortunately, because of potential side effects, not all patients who might benefit will be recommended to receive chemotherapy as they may have other illnesses which may cause negative effects. Other drug treatments may be appropriate for cancer patients for whom chemotherapy isn't suitable.

Biological therapy

This is a newer form of treatment which attacks cancer cells in other ways than cell-division. It may attack the surrounding blood vessels (anti-angiogenic ) or it may be targeted and relevant to particular means that some cancers use to grow. These include Epidermal Growth Factor EGFR and Human Epidermal Growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)

Side-effects

Side effects for biological therapy are usually very different to chemotherapy and often include skin changes and effects on the heart and blood vessels, but different drugs will have different side effects.

Hormone therapy

This is a form of biological therapy which has been around for more than a century, and can be extremely effective with minimal side-effects in certain cancers such as many breast, prostate and uterine cancers.  This treatment targets the hormones which drive the growth of some cancers. Although biological therapy has been available for many years, the specific treatments are rapidly changing to improve effectiveness and to reduce side-effects.

Side-effects

Often there are none. Hot flushes may occur, in some cases and there may be an increased risk of blood clots and impotence in some men.

For more information about cancer treatment, see the FACTS website.

For more information about side effects, see the NHS Choices website.