Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Children usually have a combination of chemotherapy drugs.

The number of drugs your child has will depend on the type of cancer or leukaemia they have. The doctors will explain to you which drugs are being used and when they will be given.

 Chemotherapy drugs affect dividing cells. This includes some normal cells, such as those in the lining of the mouth, bone marrow, the hair follicles and the digestive system. Healthy cells can repair the damage caused by chemotherapy but cancer cells can’t, so they eventually die. 

Chemotherapy can be given in different ways – either as tablets, capsules or liquids that are swallowed, or by injection. There are many technical terms used to describe how the drugs are given. Whichever way chemotherapy drugs are given, they are absorbed into the bloodstream and carried around the body so they can reach and destroy cancer cells. 

This makes chemotherapy especially useful in treating cancers that are likely to spread, or have spread, to other parts of the body.

Planning treatment

Chemotherapy has to be planned carefully. It is usually given as a series of sessions of treatment. Each session destroys some of the cancer cells and will cause some damage to healthy cells. After each treatment, there’s usually a rest period to allow the healthy cells to recover before the next dose. A session of chemotherapy and the rest period is known as a cycle of treatment. A series of cycles make up a course of treatment.

This information was written by the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG)

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