Chemotherapy fights cancer cells

Chemotherapy is used to fight almost every type of cancer. Oncologists (cancer doctors) prescribe and give chemotherapy as part of your individual treatment plan.

Chemotherapy uses medicine to kill cancer cells throughout your body. It can also keep cancer from spreading to other areas of your body, slow down how fast cancer grows or shrink cancer tumors.

How is chemotherapy given?

You may receive one or more medicines depending on your type and stage of cancer. Chemotherapy may be taken as pills or shots or, more commonly, received through a tube placed in a vein.

You may receive chemotherapy treatments each day, each week or each month for a few weeks or a few months. Your chemotherapy treatment plan is personalized to you and your health needs.

What happens during chemotherapy treatments?

Chemotherapy treatment sessions can last anywhere from two to ten hours. You may receive chemotherapy at a hospital or at an outpatient infusion center. Because you could be there for a few hours, you're encouraged to bring books, games and other forms of entertainment. You may also choose to bring snacks.

You should dress comfortably and make sure a nurse can easily get to the vein where you receive chemotherapy. You may also want to bring a friend with you since you may be too tired to drive after treatment. A friend can also help you pass the time during treatment.

What are the types of chemotherapy?

Different patients may receive chemotherapy at different times in their cancer treatment. Some people receive neoadjuvant chemotherapy, which means they have chemotherapy before surgery to remove cancer or before radiation therapy. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy helps shrink tumors to make them easier for surgeons to remove or makes cancer easier to target with radiation.

Other people receive adjuvant therapy, meaning they have chemotherapy after surgery or radiation therapy to kill any cancer cells that were left behind.

Some people receive chemotherapy as part of palliative (comfort) care . Chemotherapy can ease cancer symptoms, such as pain, by shrinking cancer tumors.

What are chemotherapy side effects?

Chemotherapy can have side effects, most commonly feeling very tired (fatigue). What side effects you experience will depend on what chemotherapy medicines you’re taking.

Other common side effects include:

  • Feeling sick to your stomach (nausea)
  • Throwing up
  • Hair loss
  • Increased risk of getting infections or getting sick
  • Sores in your mouth
  • Skin reactions like rash, dry skin, acne or peeling skin

You can prevent and manage some chemotherapy side effects. For instance, frequently brushing your teeth helps prevent mouth sores. Anti-nausea medicines can help prevent nausea and vomiting.

As chemotherapy medicines advance and become more targeted, people have fewer side effects from chemotherapy.

Please talk to your doctor or nurse navigator about any questions you have about chemotherapy. No question is too small—we're here to help you.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.