Image of hands in gloves operating a drip

Chemotherapy

When chemotherapy is used

Image of medical dripSmall cell lung cancer (SCLC)

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for SCLC. This is because SCLC tends to respond well to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs circulate in the bloodstream around the body and hence can reach and attack cancer cells that have spread from the lungs to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy may be used on its own to treat SCLC, or it may be prescribed following surgery.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

In the case of NSCLC, chemotherapy is a common treatment though not the only one. Chemotherapy may be prescribed before surgery to shrink the tumour in the lung and make it easier to remove. If the NSCLC is in its early stages, chemotherapy after surgery can help to lower the risk of a relapse. Sometimes, in cases where surgery is not possible, chemotherapy can also be used to get rid of early stage NSCLC.

If the cancer is at an advanced stage, chemotherapy may also be used to extend the patient’s life, even if the cancer cannot be cured.

How chemotherapy works

Chemotherapy is mostly given intravenously into the bloodstream, but there are also oral chemotherapy capsules.

Intravenous Chemotherapy

Patients usually have intravenous chemotherapy on a regular schedule, with each period of treatment being called a cycle.

Image of hands injecting liquid with a syringe into a drip tube

The drugs enter the body in various ways:

  • via a cannula. A cannula is inserted into a vein in the arm, and chemotherapy drugs are fed into the body through a drip.
  • via a central line. This is a plastic tube usually inserted into the chest or neck, that delivers the chemotherapy drugs into a large vein. The tube may remain in for the duration of the treatment, which could be a few months.
  • via a PICC line. This is inserted through a vein in the arm, and delivers chemotherapy drugs to the chest.
  • via a port-a-cath. An implantable venous access device, this "wearable" port is inserted under the skin on the chest. It delivers a continuous flow of drugs to the body.
Oral Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy capsules must be taken according to doctor’s instructions—it is crucial to take the right dose in the correct way.

References:
Cancer Research UK: Lung Cancer - Chemotherapy Treatment.
Retrieved Nov 2017 from http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/lung-cancer/treatment/chemotherapy/chemotherapy-treatment; Cancer Research UK: About Chemotherapy Into Your Vein.
Retrieved Nov 2017 from http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/chemotherapy/how-you-have/into-your-vein/about