Chemotherapy involves drugs that destroy cancer cells by disrupting their growth. The aim of chemotherapy is to extend your life or to shrink the lung cancer allowing further treatment such as surgery or radiotherapy.
Chemotherapy is the main treatment for small cell lung cancer, as the cells are very responsive. In small cell lung cancer the cells are likely to have spread to other parts of the body. When chemotherapy is given, it circulates around the body so cells that may have spread elsewhere are treated. Often the chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer is given alone, but can also be used in combination with radiotherapy or if the cancer is very small, after surgery.
In non- small cell lung cancer chemotherapy may be given after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer returning. It may also be used in combination with radiotherapy or when the cancer has spread.
Two or three chemotherapy drugs are used together and are given either through a drip or sometimes as tablets. Treatments are given every 3-4 weeks, with the time between doses allowing your body to recover from any side effects. A total of 4-6 treatments are given, so a course of chemotherapy usually lasts for around 3-4 months or so.
There are side effects to receiving chemotherapy and these vary from person to person. Chemotherapy stops cell from dividing and growing. Cancer cells are killed as they are very rapidly growing, however the chemotherapy is likely to affect your normal cells too, causing side effects. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, tiredness, lethargy, and hair thinning and hair loss. You will also be more prone to infections. Medications can be given to help you manage any side effects.