Chemotherapy for lung cancer

Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with drugs that kill cancer cells or slow their growth. It can be used at different times:

  • before surgery to try to shrink the cancer and make the operation easier (neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
  • before or during radiation therapy to make radiation therapy more effective (chemoradiation)
  • after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer returning (adjuvant chemotherapy)
  • when cancer is advanced – to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life (palliative chemotherapy).

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Having chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is usually delivered into a vein (intravenously). Each chemotherapy treatment is called a cycle and is followed by a rest period to give your body time to recover. The number of cycles will depend on the type of lung cancer you have and the side effects you experience. You will probably have chemotherapy as an outpatient, which means you won’t have to stay overnight. Ask your doctor about the treatment plan recommended for you.

Some types of chemotherapy come in tablet form and can be taken by mouth (orally). These are sometimes used on an ongoing basis.

Side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy works on cells that are dividing rapidly. Cancer cells divide rapidly, as do some healthy cells such as the cells in your blood, mouth, digestive system and hair follicles. Side effects occur when chemotherapy damages these normal cells. Unlike cancer cells, normal cells can recover, so most side effects are temporary. Side effects vary depending on the drugs used and from person to person.


A low red blood cell count is called anaemia. This can make you feel tired or breathless. Your treatment team will monitor your red blood cell levels and suggest treatment if necessary.

Risk of infections  

Chemotherapy drugs lower the number of white blood cells that fight infections, so you will be more likely to develop colds or flu. If you feel unwell or have a temperature above 38°C, call your doctor immediately or go to the hospital emergency department.

Mouth ulcers

Some chemotherapy drugs cause mouth sores, ulcers and thickened saliva, which make it difficult to swallow. Your treatment team will explain how to take care of your mouth.

Hair loss

You may lose hair from your head and chest, depending on the chemotherapy drugs you receive. The hair will grow back after treatment is completed, but the colour and texture may change.

Nausea or vomiting

You will usually be prescribed anti-nausea medicine with your chemotherapy drugs, but some people still feel sick (nauseous) or vomit. Let your treatment team know if you feel nauseous, as they may be able to offer another anti-nausea medicine.

For more on this, see  ChemotherapyMouth health and Hair loss, and listen to our podcast on Appetite Loss and Nausea.

Video: What is chemotherapy?

Watch this short video to learn more about chemotherapy.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on chemotherapy.

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Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in November 2018
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Chemotherapy common questions
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