Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses medication to destroy cancer cells. There are different goals for chemotherapy. The treatment may be meant to cure the cancer, control its growth and spread, or provide comfort to the patient.
Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly. It can also harm healthy cells that divide quickly, such as those that line your mouth and intestines or cause your hair to grow. Often, side effects get better or go away after chemotherapy is over.
Depending on your type of cancer and how advanced it is, chemotherapy can:
- Cure cancer
- Control cancer
- Ease cancer symptoms
Sometimes, chemotherapy is used as the only cancer treatment. More often, you will get chemotherapy along with surgery, radiation therapy, or biological therapy.
Where do I go for chemotherapy?
You may receive chemotherapy during a hospital stay, at home, or in a doctor's office, clinic, or outpatient unit in a hospital. No matter where you go for chemotherapy, your doctor and nurse will watch for side effects and make any needed medication changes.
How is chemotherapy given?
Chemotherapy may be given in many ways.
- Injection. The chemotherapy is given by a shot in a muscle in your arm, thigh, or hip or right under the skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or belly.
- Intra-arterial. The chemotherapy goes directly into the artery that is feeding the cancer.
- Intraperitoneal. The chemotherapy goes directly into the peritoneal cavity
- Intravenous. The chemotherapy goes directly into a vein.
- Topically. The chemotherapy comes in a cream that you rub onto your skin.
- Orally. The chemotherapy comes in pills, capsules, or liquids that you swallow.
How will I feel during chemotherapy?
Some people do not feel well right after chemotherapy. The most common side effect is fatigue, feeling exhausted and worn out.
Chemotherapy side effects
Side effects are problems caused by cancer treatment. Some common side effects from chemotherapy are fatigue, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, mouth sores, and pain.
What causes side effects?
Chemotherapy is designed to kill fast-growing cancer cells. But it can also affect healthy cells that grow quickly. These include cells that line your mouth and intestines, cells in your bone marrow that make blood cells, and cells that make your hair grow. Chemotherapy causes side effects when it harms these healthy cells.
Most side effects go away after chemotherapy is over. But sometimes it can take months or even years for them to go away. Sometimes, chemotherapy causes long-term side effects that do not go away. These may include damage to your heart, lungs, nerves, kidneys, or reproductive organs.
Doctors have many ways to prevent or treat chemotherapy side effects and help you heal after each treatment session. Chemotherapy can be very stressful and emotional as living with cancer is difficult. Surround yourself with loving and supportive people and make this time an unforgettable experience with your loved ones.