Chemotherapy (sometimes called chemo) is a medication (medicine).

Why do I need chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer. There are about 50 different chemotherapy medicines. These are used to destroy (kill off) cancer cells. The type of chemo you need depends on the type of cancer that you have. You may also need radiotherapy (radiation treatment). Sometimes surgery (an operation ) is needed to help to get rid of the cancer

What happens?

Sometimes you swallow your chemo as a pill or liquid. But sometimes it needs to go straight into a vein. If so, you will probably get it through a special line called a central line. The chemo finds its way into your blood. This way the drugs can then pass round your body. The drugs will damage any cancer cells that they find. This will stop the cancer cells from splitting and growing. But the drugs can also damage some normal cells in your body. This means you may get some side-effects.

When can I go home?

How long your treatment will take all depends on how well the chemo works. Usually you will have chemo cycles lasting a few days. So in between the cycles you may be able to go home. It may take a few months to finish your treatment. Your doctor may be able to give you a better idea of how long it will take altogether.

Are there any side-effects?

It is hard to say what side-effects you will get with chemotherapy. The different drugs are given in different amounts and in different combinations. These affect different people in different ways. But the good news is that almost all of the side-effects are short-term. Some will go away days after the treatment. Others will slowly disappear after you have finished your treatment. But some may stay even after the treatment has finished. Talk to your doctor about the treatment you are getting. They will tell you if it’s likely to affect you when you are older.

Last reviewed by Great Ormond Street Hospital: 6 December 2006