Chemotherapy for CUP
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill or slow down the growth of cancer cells. It is the most common treatment for cancer of unknown primary (CUP).
Medical oncologists and some other specialists prescribe chemotherapy to relieve symptoms caused by the cancer. It can also be used together with radiation therapy or surgery to try to kill any local collections of cancer cells in the body. As different cancer cells respond to different chemotherapy drugs, you may be given a combination of drugs.
Learn more about:
- How chemotherapy is given
- Chemotherapy cycles
- Side effects of chemotherapy
- Video: What is chemotherapy?
How chemotherapy is given
You will usually be given the chemotherapy drugs by drip into a vein (intravenously), but some types are taken by mouth as tablets. The drugs circulate through the bloodstream and can kill cancer cells throughout the body (systemic treatment).
Chemotherapy is given in courses known as cycles. Typically, you will have chemotherapy as an outpatient, but sometimes a short stay in hospital is needed. Each cycle is followed by a recovery period.
The number of treatment cycles you have depends on your situation. With CUP, it is recommended that your doctors test how the cancer responds to the chemotherapy after two or three cycles. This will allow you to weigh up the benefits of continuing against the effects on your quality of life.
Side effects of chemotherapy
Most chemotherapy drugs cause side effects. Side effects are usually temporary, and can be prevented or reduced.
The most common side effects include:
- feeling sick (nausea)
- mouth sores
- loss of appetite
- diarrhoea or constipation
- some thinning or loss of hair from your body and head.
Chemotherapy weakens the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight infections. You will have regular blood tests to check your immune system. If your temperature rises to 38°C or above, contact your medical team or hospital immediately.
The side effects of some chemotherapy drugs can be longer lasting or permanent (e.g. damage to the heart or nerves). Ask your doctor to explain the potential risks and benefits of the chemotherapy recommended for you.
For more on this, see our general section on Chemotherapy.
Video: What is chemotherapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about chemotherapy.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Prof Linda Mileshkin, Medical Oncologist, Clinical Researcher, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Christine Bradfield, Consumer; Cindy Bryant, Consumer; Dr Maria Cigolini, Head, Department of Palliative Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and Clinical Lecturer, The University of Sydney, NSW; Mary Duffy, Advanced Practice Nurse and Nurse Coordinator, Lung Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dr Siobhan O’Neill, Medical Oncologist, Nelune Comprehensive Cancer Centre, NSW; Prof Penelope Schofield, Department of Psychological Sciences and the Iverson Health Innovation Research Institute, Swinburne University of Technology, and Head, Behavioural Science in Cancer, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Frank Stoss, Consumer.
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