Systemic Treatment

Cancer can be treated with different types of drugs, including chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. Each drug works in a different way to treat cancer. These treatment options are known as systemic treatment, or more commonly, chemotherapy. 

Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells or slows them from growing or multiplying. Chemotherapy also temporarily affects some of your body’s healthy cells in the same way. You may receive one chemotherapy drug or a combination of different chemotherapy drugs. Some examples of chemotherapy drugs include:

  • Hormone therapy slows or stops your body’s production of the hormones that help some cancers to grow.  Hormones act as messengers in the body. 
  • Immunotherapy uses substances made from living organisms to strengthen your immune system and help it destroy cancer cells or stop them from coming back.
  • Targeted therapy uses substances made from living organisms to affect specific parts of cancer cells to stop them from growing and multiplying.  Targeted therapy may have less of an affect on your healthy cells than other cancer drugs.
  • Supportive drugs prevent, manage or relieve the side effects of cancer.  

How cancer drugs are given

Cancer drugs are given in different ways. How they are given depends on the type of drug and your type of cancer. They may be given:

  • By swallowing the drugs as a pill or capsule (by mouth).
  • By infusion using an intravenous (tube into your vein).
  • By injection under your skin with a needle.

If you get your cancer drugs by intravenous (IV), a special long-term IV may be inserted. The most common long-term IVs are peripherally inserted central catheters (PICCs) or port-a-caths (PORTs). Long-term IVs are inserted so that you are not repeatedly poked by a needle to start a new IV.

Cancer drugs are often given in a series of cycles. Each cycle includes the treatment day(s) and some recovery days after treatment. The recovery days allow your body time to recover from side effects before your next cycle. Your cancer care team will talk with you in detail about your own treatment plan.

Where you receive your cancer drugs will again depend on the type of drugs being given and your type of cancer. If you are getting your cancer drugs by infusion or injection, you will go to a hospital. Most treatment plans do not require you to stay at the hospital overnight to get your cancer drugs. When possible, you will get your cancer drugs at a hospital close to your home. 

If you are getting your cancer drugs as a pill or capsule by mouth, you can take them at home. In this case, it is important that you follow your cancer care team’s instructions on how to take you cancer drugs at home.

Your cancer care team will give you specific instructions for when and where you will receive your cancer drugs.

To help provide you with additional information on the basics of chemotherapy and other cancer drugs, we have created a informational video to help provide you with general information as well orient you to the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario. By the end of this video, you should be able to:

• Describe the chemotherapy treatment cycle
• Explain the locations of where you will receive your cancer care
• Identify the different roles that make up the patient care team
• Talk about the chemotherapy experience and looking after your emotional health