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Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer by the use of cytotoxic (cell destroying) drugs.  Chemotherapy can enable people with cancer to lead active lives. It can be used to manage cancer symptoms, to prevent or delay disease recurrence and, sometimes, to effect a cure.

Chemotherapy, or chemo,  is usually a course of treatment which is given as several doses over a period of weeks. There are many different kinds of chemotherapy, and your doctor will discuss which ones they feel are options for you. Some chemotherapies are offered as part of a clinical trial. If your doctor thinks that a trial would be beneficial to you, they will discuss it fully with you

How can chemotherapy treat my cancer?

The aim of chemotherapy treatment depends on the type of cancer, how large it is and if it has spread. Chemotherapy can be used to:

  1. Cure cancer
  2. Keep the cancer from spreading
  3. Slow the cancers growth
  4. Kill cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body
  5. Relieve the symptoms that are being caused by the cancer

Chemotherapies, like all drugs, have different side effects, and your doctor will discuss these with you in more detail. Click here to find out some more about possible chemotherapy side effects.

Before starting chemotherapy treatment you may have some investigations such as blood tests and scans to make sure you are fit enough to begin treatment. You may also be given drugs to help your body prepare for chemo. You will be asked to sign a consent form before the treatment begins.

The chemotherapy drugs most often used to treat ovarian cancer are:

  • Carboplatin
  • Cisplatin
  • Paclitaxel (Taxol)
  • Liposomal doxorubicin (Caelyx)
  • Topotecan (Hycamptin)
  • Docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • Etoposide (Vepesid)
  • Gemcitabine (Gemzar)

Most of these drugs are administered into a vein, so you will need to be in hospital to have them.  Chemotherapy is usually given on an outpatient basis, so you should be able to go home afterwards. The exact dosages, frequency and number of doses will depend on many factors, and the hospital team will talk you through the details of your treatment.

Macmillan provides more detailed factsheets on specific types of chemotherapy drugs; click here to access them.

Chemotherapy and your family

Often friends and family will want to help you while you are having treatment , especially if you are experiencing unpleasant side effects. . Remember family and friends may feel very nervous about you during your chemotherapy. Letting them know how you feel and that their support means a lot to you will be reassuring. Getting into the habit of talking about your treatment with them will help them to understand if you have a bad day, and they will be reassured that when that happens, you will let them know.

Complementary therapies

Many people like to do all they can to help themselves during cancer treatment and recovery. Many therapies such as relaxation and gentle exercise will have no impact on your chemo, but it is important to let your doctors know if you are taking any drugs, supplements or therapies such as homeopathy. Some people find such supportive therapies a great help, but in rare instances they may interfere with your chemo treatment.

Last review November 2013

Date of next review November 2015