What is chemotherapy?

The word ‘chemotherapy’ simply means ‘drug treatment’. Chemotherapy uses cytotoxic (anti-cancer) drugs which enter the blood system to destroy cancer cells. A chemotherapy drug can be given either on its own or in combination with other drugs. When more than one drug is given, it is known as a combination chemotherapy regimen. There are over 200 types of cancer and, in the UK, more than 50 chemotherapy drugs are currently licensed. Your consultant will advise you on what chemotherapy drug or combination is right for you.

How does chemotherapy work?

Chemotherapy drugs work by interfering with the ability of cells to divide and grow. The affected cells become damaged and eventually die. As the drugs are carried in the blood, they can reach cancer cells all over the body. Unfortunately, chemotherapy drugs can also affect normal cells, sometimes causing side effects. Unlike cancer cells, normal cells quickly recover, so any damage to them is usually temporary and most side effects will disappear once the treatment is over. Your consultant will discuss the possible side effects with you before you start your treatment.

What is the aim of chemotherapy?

You can be given chemotherapy for different reasons. You may be given ‘curative’ chemotherapy to try and cure the cancer. Chemotherapy may be used if cancer has spread or there’s a risk it will. It may also be used to reduce the risk of cancer coming back after treatment or surgery. Sometimes chemotherapy is used in combination with other treatments such as radiotherapy to make them more effective. In some cases, when the cancer cannot be cured, chemotherapy is used to relieve symptoms, this is known as palliative chemotherapy.

How will I receive my chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy can be delivered intravenously (into the blood stream) or orally via tablet form. The way your chemotherapy is delivered will depend on the drug you are prescribed.

If your chemotherapy is delivered intravenously a small needle will be inserted into your hand or arm for the chemotherapy to be delivered through. You will normally need to stay in the chemotherapy lounge whilst it is being administered.

If your chemotherapy is delivered orally via a tablet you will be given a supply of tablets along with instructions about when and how to take them by your chemotherapy nurses.

How long will my chemotherapy treatment take?

The length of your chemotherapy treatment will depend on your type of cancer. Your consultant will discuss with you how long your treatment course will take.

If you are receiving chemotherapy delivered intravenously this may take several hours. Your chemotherapy nurses will be able to explain how long the procedure will take.

Find out more

If you have any more questions about chemotherapy treatment at our centres or you would like to make an appointment, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Chemotherapy overview - Macmillan Cancer Support - Video


The radiotherapy treatment comes from an electrical machine called a ‘Linear accelerator’ and is directed as a beam to the part of the body that needs to be treated. Treatment is given daily over a period of days or weeks and you may hear people call these treatments ‘fractions’. They are just a fraction of your treatment dose and plan.

Proton beam therapy

Proton beam therapy is used today to treat many cancers and is particularly appropriate in situations where treatment options are limited or conventional radiotherapy presents an unacceptable risk to the patient. These situations can include brain cancers, tumors close to the brain stem, spinal cord or other vital organs, prostate cancers, recurring cancers and paediatric cancers. Proton beam therapy is available at the Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales.

Supportive care

At the Rutherford Cancer Centres, we aim to provide holistic support to patients throughout their treatment. We offer easy access to supportive therapies that are provided in-house at our centres. These could include access to: physiotherapy, dietetic services, reflexology and counselling.