Learn more about
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. Cancer cells grow and divide in large amounts to make new cancer cells. Drugs used to treat cancer can either stop cancer cells from growing or kill them.
Some drugs also work on tumour cells. Tumours have receptors. They receive outside signals telling the cell to grow or multiply. The drugs block the tumour receptors and stop the cells from growing.
How is it given?
Chemotherapy may be given in three ways:
- By mouth as a pill
- Through a thin tube placed in your vein (IV)
- Your doctor may speak with you about vascular access devices (a tube that can stay in your body for several weeks). This will depend on the type and length of treatment.
- A needle injection under the skin or muscle
Devices commonly used during chemotherapy
- Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC)
- This tube is placed into one of your veins in your inner arm, either above or below your elbow. The end of the catheter hangs outside of your skin.
- This device consists of a catheter (tube) and a port (a door). The entire device is placed under your skin, often into your upper chest. The catheter portion acts as a connector between the port and your vein. The port provides easy entry for drugs to be injected. The Port-a-Cath is placed by an interventional radiologist (a doctor who can read x-rays). It is a day procedure that needs to be planned ahead.
Common side effects of chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer cells, but sometimes it can affect healthy cells as well. As a result, you may experience side effects of your cancer treatment. Everyone will experience the side effects differently. Here are some of the most common:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hair loss
- Loss of appetite
- Skin changes
Your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist will speak with you about possible side effects. Most side effects should disappear after you finish your chemotherapy. You should speak to your doctor if they continue.
Patient and family educational resources
In this section, you will be able to access several of our available educational material online.
Patient and Family Learning Centre, 6th Floor Cardinal Carter Wing
The Patient and Family Learning Centre has a lot of information available, including chemotherapy books about your treatment. There are also pamphlets, books and DVDs. You can also find information online.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Phone: 416-864-6060, extension 2522
Website: Learn about health
At times, getting to treatment can be a hard task, especially if the hospital is far away. If you need help with transportation, contact the Wheels of Hope Program from the Canadian Cancer Society.
Volunteers can drive you to and from the hospital or treatment centre. The program can meet your accessibility needs.
Please visit: Wheels of Hope page
Community Care Access Centre (CCAC)
Getting care in the community is also coordinated by Community Care Access Centres. Depending on the care required, services may be provided at a walk-in nursing clinic or in your home. Starting chemotherapy in the home requires a lot of planning by the healthcare team. When you are starting chemotherapy in your home, please do not book any other time sensitive appointments on that same day.
CCAC connects patients with the right health care services and information to support staying independent and active in the community. The services are provided at no cost to people of any age. Care coordinators can arrange healthcare services, discuss care options, as well as check your progress. If you would like more information, please contact CCAC at the number below or alternatively, speak to a social worker who will better assist you.
Website: Toronto CCAC website
Resources for quitting smoking: specific benefits of smoking cessation for patients undergoing cancer treatment
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to help your cancer treatment. Whether you are scheduled to have surgery, radiation treatment or chemotherapy, quitting smoking will help you.
Radiation therapy, for example, works better if the level of oxygen in your body is normal. When you smoke, the level of oxygen in your blood drops, making it harder for radiation to do its job.
Chemotherapy drugs work better in people who don’t smoke.
Quitting smoking makes your surgery safer and helps you recover more quickly.
List of resources to aid you in quitting smoking:
- Cancer Care Ontario’s The benefits of quitting smoking for people with cancer
- Canadian Cancer Society’s For smokers who want to quit; one step at a time.
- Smokers’ Helpline