Chemotherapy: introduction

This booklet has been prepared to help you understand more about chemotherapy, one of the main treatments for cancer. Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that can be given in different ways and for various reasons. Understanding some facts about chemotherapy may help you to make decisions and cope better.

Chemotherapy can cause different side effects in different people. Some people will have no side effects, while others may have a range. Reactions vary depending on the type of drug used, and they can also vary from one chemotherapy treatment period (cycle) to the next. However, most side effects are temporary, and many can be controlled or reduced.

We cannot give advice about the best treatment for you. You need to discuss this with your doctors. However, we hope this information will answer some of your questions and help you think about other questions to ask your treatment team.

If you come across a word you don’t understand, see the section What does this word mean? for definitions of some common medical terms.

Treatments for cancer

Different treatments for cancer are used alone or in combination. Most cancers are treated with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy (x-ray treatment). Other treatments, such as hormone therapy, can also be used for some types of cancer.

Sometimes drugs known as targeted therapies are used instead of or with chemotherapy.

Your treatment depends on several factors, including:

  • the type of cancer you have
  • where it began
  • whether it has spread to other parts of your body
  • your general health and your age
  • what treatment you want or are prepared to have.

This information is for adults having chemotherapy, although some of the information will be relevant for children. Talk to your doctor for specific information about chemotherapy for children.

General information

Request a booklet

For a free printed copy of Understanding Chemotherapy call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.   You can also download this information at the top of the page.

Editorial policy

Each Understanding Cancer series booklet is reviewed and updated every two years or as new information comes to hand. The Cancer Council works with cancer doctors, specialist nurses or other relevant health professionals to ensure the medical information is reliable and up to date. Consumers also check the booklets to see they meet the needs of people with cancer.

Before commencing any health treatment, always consult your doctor. This booklet is intended as a general introduction and should not be seen as a substitute for your own doctor’s or health professional’s advice. All care is taken to ensure that the information contained is accurate at the time of publication.

Content updated June 2012.

View our editoral policy