Chemotherapy refers to drug treatments which aim to destroy cancer cells by non-specific mechanisms.
Some chemotherapeutic agents can be administered orally, others intravenously, some are hardly toxic and others more so… Similarly, different tumours do not respond to the same chemotherapy. Chemotherapy does not, therefore, refer to a drug but to a method of treatment which incorporates a wide range of drugs.
Frequency of administration
The frequency of administration depends on the chemotherapeutic protocol chosen by the doctor.
This can be daily chemotherapy (particularly for oral administration), or weekly, fortnightly or every 3 weeks…
Similarly, the total duration also depends on the protocol. Nevertheless, there are some guidelines. For example, for testicular tumours the number of cycles generally lies between 2 and 4. For breast cancer post-surgery, 6 cycles of chemotherapy are usually delivered.
Chemotherapy by infusion
The duration of an infusion varies from 10 minutes to more than 72 hours.
Chemotherapy infusions may be conducted in the Day Hospital or in a standard hospital environment, or sometimes in the context of a «Hospital at Home» programme.
Chemotherapy requires a traditional admission to hospital where it lasts several days or when it is essential to keep the patient hydrated during treatment.
Intravenous infusions sometimes necessitate positioning of an implantable port in a vein in the neck. This is required because chemotherapeutic agents damage the veins and cannot be given repeatedly via veins in the arms.
Although chemotherapy is sometimes associated with adverse effects, these are generally well controlled using supportive medication.
The prevention and treatment of possible adverse effects is helped by good collaboration between the family doctor and the oncologist and through the patient’s knowing how to deal with any such occurrence. It is, therefore, essential that patients having chemotherapy are seen in parallel by a family doctor.