Chemotherapy means any drug which is given to treat cancer, but nowadays normally is used to refer to so called cytotoxic drugs, which kill cancer cells normally by attacking the mechanisms that cells use to divide. Because chemotherapy targets rapidly dividing cancer cells it can also damage some of the normal cells in the body, particularly if they also divide rapidly. Examples of these include hair follicles, the cells that line the intestine and bone marrow cells (which produce red and white blood cells and platelets). For this reason chemotherapy may cause side effects such as hair loss, mouth ulcers and low white blood cells.
Chemotherapy can be given in different ways but typically is given either orally (by mouth) in tablet form, or intravenously either as short injections or as longer infusions. Sometimes chemotherapy can be given as a constant intravenous infusion via a pump which patients take home with them. Intravenous chemotherapy is normally given on the oncology unit at the Nuffield hospital, but some treatments can also be given in patients’ own homes.