Lung cancer: chemotherapy

Chemotherapy involves the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs, which destroy cancer cells by damaging them so that they can’t divide and grow. These drugs can also affect normal cells that are growing and dividing, and this causes side effects (see ‘Side effects of chemotherapy for lung cancer’). The drugs can be given into a vein (intravenously) via a needle or orally as tablets or capsules.

There are many different chemotherapy drugs and they can be given on their own but are now more commonly given in combination.

A cycle of chemotherapy may last a few days. The number of courses given to a person depends on the type of cancer, on the response to the drugs and on the side effects of treatment. A course may be given every three weeks and up to six courses may be advised.

Before receiving chemotherapy a blood sample is taken to check the blood count and to see how well the kidneys and liver are working. If the chemotherapy has had serious side effects a course of treatment has to be postponed.

For small cell lung cancer, chemotherapy is the main treatment. In many cases chemotherapy will enable people to live for longer with better control of symptoms. It may be given on its own or before radiotherapy.

Chemotherapy is sometimes also used for those with non-small cell lung cancer in order to control symptoms, or it may be used before surgery or radiotherapy to try to improve results which is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.

It has been suggested that chemotherapy may also improve some of the symptoms of mesothelioma but as yet there is no evidence that it will prolong life.

Some patients have chemotherapy as a day treatment. One man with mesothelioma, who was taking part in a chemotherapy trial, explained what it was like on his first day of chemotherapy. He remembered the blood tests, waiting for the chemotherapy drugs to be prepared, the drip in his arm, and the camaraderie on the ward. Another person recalled the excellent care she received. However, other people were less positive about their chemotherapy, which one man found long and boring.

Describes his first day of chemotherapy.

Age at interview 62

Gender Male

Age at diagnosis 61

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Describes her chemotherapy and the excellent care she received.

Age at interview 53

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 52

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Describes his experience of having chemotherapy.

Age at interview 66

Gender Male

Age at diagnosis 57

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Other people stayed in hospital for a few days while having their chemotherapy, but could move around the ward with their chemotherapy drugs on a stand. They could make tea in the kitchen and walk to the toilet.

Describes what it was like having chemotherapy injected into her spine, but only the thought of…

Age at interview 67

Gender Male

Age at diagnosis 67

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Lung cancer: radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is often used to treat people with lung cancer. It can also be used to shrink tumours before surgery. There two main types of...