Staying One Step Ahead of Cancer with Preventative Chemotherapy

Icon Writers / 02 Apr, 2024

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ian Irving, was invited by ABC Brisbane Drive Radio with Katherine Feeney to talk about preventative chemotherapy treatment plans.

“Preventative chemotherapy, or what we in oncology and haematology call adjuvant chemotherapy, is given after the initial surgery to take out the cancer that will target and kill any of the microscopic deposits of cancer that are left behind after the surgery and hopefully the cancer won’t recur”.

Hear the entire interview below:

What is Preventative Chemotherapy?

Often cancer is treated with surgery and when it is removed you hope that every bit of the tumour is taken out. Unfortunately, sometimes even though it looks to the naked eye and to the surgeon that all the cancer has been taken out, there are microscopic deposits of cancer can cause a cancer recurrence either months or years in the future. Preventative chemotherapy, or what we in oncology and haematology call adjuvant chemotherapy, is a proactive measure, given after the initial surgery that will target and kill any of these microscopic deposits of cancer that are left behind after the surgery.

The Science Behind Preventative Chemotherapy

Most cancer chemotherapy drugs target rapidly dividing cells. A typical course of preventative chemotherapy lasts three to six months, depending on the type and stage of the cancer. In some cases, courses of adjuvant chemotherapy are given over several years. The duration and type of drugs used in your treatment will be individualised to your own personal circumstances.

Effectiveness of Preventative Chemotherapy

Preventative chemotherapy has been found to be particularly effective for breast, bowel, and lung cancer. However, its benefits extend to other forms of cancer as well. The decision to use adjuvant therapy is based on the type of cancer, how advanced the disease is, and other properties of the tumour.

Understanding the Side Effects

When you’re receiving preventative chemotherapy, it is very important to remember it is chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy includes all sorts of drugs which are given to kill cancer cells and they do have side effects. Chemotherapy is often given for advanced cancer, cancer you can see around the body and whether you’re giving it in a preventative sense or for advanced cancer, the side effects are going to be similar. Just because it is preventative chemotherapy or adjuvant chemotherapy does not mean it comes, without side effects or risks. These side effects can vary depending on the cancer, treatment and person. But common side effects include hair loss, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, chemo brain or forgetfulness and tingling in the hands and feet. We also always warn patients undergoing chemotherapy, whether preventative or not, that the treatment lowers your immune system and increases your risk of getting an infection.

The Support You Will Need

Facing any chemotherapy or cancer treatment is undeniably challenging. Everyone needs to go through that journey in their own way, some people want privacy and others like to share their journey on social media. Each person’s journey is unique, and its essential to have a network of support around you – emotionally, physically and medically. Someone who is there for you emotionally but someone who is also there to take your temperature, take you to appointments, drive you to the hospital if you have a fever. It is also important to have a good nursing and medical team around you, a GP as well as your oncologist or haematologist. During chemotherapy, it is still important to participate as much as your body allows in exercise or activities, but also make sure you listen to its cues and rest when needed. The support and care you need will be Individualised to you, taking into account the specific side effects and treatment you’re undergoing. Remember, you’re not alone – your healthcare team will always be there, and we can help you establish a strong support network.


Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (n.d). Chemotherapy. Retrieved on 27th March 2024 from

American Cancer Society. (2024). Chemotherapy. Retrieved on 27th March 2024 from

Cancer Council. (2022). Understanding Chemotherapy. Retrieved on 27th March from

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