Understanding Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs stop or retard the growth of cancer cells. Cancer cells undergo rapid division and chemotherapy drugs interfere with their division. By virtue of this mechanism of action, they may in some cases also harm healthy body cells which undergo rapid divisions, causing certain side effects.

How are chemotherapeutic agents administered?

Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer by means of chemical drugs. It is administered to kill cancer cells or to retard or prevent their growth. Sometimes a combination of more than one drug is given in order to fight the tumor cells in different ways.

Chemotherapy makes cancer cells more sensitive to the effect of irradiation, therefore these two methods are often combined to obtain the best result for a specific condition. The chemotherapeutic drugs reach the cells via the blood stream. Cancer cells divide very rapidly and consequently absorb most of the chemotherapy, therefore they will die off and not divide and grow any further.

The abnormal cells die, while the normal cells recover. The damage to the normal cells may nevertheless cause temporary side effects. The effect of chemotherapy differs from one person to another and also according to the type of cancer being treated.

Each treatment is followed by a rest period to give the normal cells time to recover. The schedule differs from one person to another, and the oncologist will explain it to you.

The chemotherapy is normally given at the oncologist's consulting rooms. If it requires an intravenous infusion over several days, however, there are two options that can be followed, namely:

  • Admission to the hospital, with a conventional infusion.
  • An infusion administration system that enables you to receive the chemotherapy at home over a period of 24 hours.

Use of the latter method is only possible if you are provided with a "port". A port is a small metal chamber (the size of a two-rand coin). It is implanted under the skin under local anaesthetic. A catheter runs from this small chamber into one of your main veins.

Access to this chamber (port) is gained through a special needle that is inserted vertically through the skin into the port. This needle will remain in position for the duration of the chemotherapy.

An elastomeric administration system ensures that the chemotherapeutic drug flows directly into your blood stream at a specific rate per hour. When the chemotherapy has been completed, the needle is removed.

Chemotherapy is no more painful than any other injection or blood tests and the agents are administered in following ways:

  • Intravenously, in the form of direct injections or an infusion. This is the most common method of administration.
  • Intra-arterially directly into the supply artery of the affected organ.
  • Orally, in the form of tablets.
  • Intramuscularly, as an injection into the muscle.
  • Subcutaneous injection into the fatty tissue.

The nursing staff rinse the vein during and after administration of chemotherapeutic drugs to prevent the vein from burning or being damaged.

If the injection area becomes painful or burn, you must report this to the nursing staff immediately. If you take medication other than that prescribed to you, you must keep the oncologist and / or nursing staff informed of this at all times.

It is also very important that you make separate appointments for your weekly and monthly chemotherapy treatments.

These appointments can be made with the oncologist's receptionists.


Dr Alberts, Bouwer & Jordaan Inc.

The Alberts, Bouwer & Jordaan practices and clinics are spread across Gauteng and the North West Province and offer the most advanced treatment methods available worldwide. We pride ourselves in our quality and the standard of care given by our doctors, nurses and support staff who treat all our patients with professionalism, compassion and understanding, providing the most effective treatments and therapy.

After hours contact details:

Radiotel: +27 (0)12 333-6000

(for all practices except Klerksdorp)

PO Box 12555, Hatfield, 0028

Download documents:

Manual in terms of section 51 PAIA ACT [1]
Manual in terms of section 51 PAIA ABJ [2]