Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with drugs, with the aim of curing the disease or controlling the symptoms. There are various groups of treatments for different cancer sites or types. The treatment regime prescribed within these groups depends on each individual patient's condition, with the dosage determined by the patient's height and weight.
The average course of chemotherapy treatment is six months, with the number of visits ranging from one a week to one a month and the length of each visit ranging from half an hour to seven hours depending on the individual treatment regime.
Most patients are pleasantly surprised that the chemotherapy unit does not look like a hospital ward. Treatment is provided in comfortable, reclining chairs arranged so that patients can talk to each other or to friends and family who come with them. There is a bedroom where patients can receive treatment if they feel unwell.
When they first start a course of chemotherapy, patients are seen by their oncologist who confirms their treatment. They are then taken round the unit by one of the qualified nurses who explains what will happen, what to expect during the treatment and how to get help and support. While they are on the unit, patients and those accompanying them can make drinks and snacks in the kitchen area of the waiting room.
Patients receive one to one chemotherapy care from expert qualified nurses during their treatment but there is also a small team of trained oncology nurses who provide advice and support between visits and throughout the course of treatment, so patients are not left alone. We also have a 24 hour dedicated telephone helpline for patients to ring for advice and support at any time of the day or night.
A team of professionals, made up of a receptionist, nurses, doctors, a secretary, pharmacists and dieticians, work together on the unit to guide each patient through their own course of treatment.
Radiotherapy is the use of high energy X-rays to treat patients with cancer. The treatment may be radical with the aim of curing the disease, or it may be palliative to control the symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. The treatment is delivered by machines called linear accelerators. Each patient's radiotherapy treatment is tailor-made for them. No two treatments are the same.
All patients who are to receive radiotherapy have their treatment carefully planned first. Most patients have a CT scan which is used to outline the areas to be treated. Patients with head or neck cancer have a specially constructed plastic shell, or mask, made for them to wear during each treatment for accuracy and to keep the head perfectly still.
Before the first treatment, each patient has a session on the simulator, which mimics the linear accelerator, to check the plan is right for that individual. The number of treatments on the linear accelerator depends on each patient's condition. It can be anything from one to 37 treatments and each treatment can take anything from two to 60 minutes. Most of the time is taken in getting the patient in the right position for the treatment. The delivery of the x-ray itself is very quick.
No-one is allowed to be in the room while a patient is receiving radiotherapy, but the radiographers can see the patient all the time through CCTV so the patient is not left alone. The Radiotherapy Department at University Hospitals is a very busy unit, but staff try to offer patients appointments at around the same time of day to make it easier for them to organise their lives around the treatment.
Patients have daily contact with the radiographers who look after them while they are attending for treatment but, during the course of treatment, patients normally have the opportunity to see a nurse or a doctor about any other concerns or specific aspects of their care.