Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells by preventing them from growing and dividing. But because healthy cells also create new cells, chemotherapy can harm them, too. This is what causes many of the side effects to chemotherapy treatment.
What Can Chemotherapy Do?
Chemotherapy can treat many different cancers. It can work in your body to:
- Cure your cancer
- Control the growth and spread of the cancer
- Bring relief to cancer symptoms
We use chemotherapy:
- Before surgery, to shrink a tumor (neoadjuvant therapy)
- After surgery (adjuvant therapy)
- By itself
- Before other treatments
- In combination with other drugs
The Pros & Cons of Chemo
Chemo travels throughout your whole body. This has both positive and negative effects:
- The positive side: Chemo can reach and kill cancer cells growing in different parts of your body
- The downside: Chemo can kill healthy cells, too
Your doctor will need to weigh these factors when choosing your treatment.
How Do You Get Chemo?
Usually, you get chemo drugs through an IV. Also called infusion therapy, we insert a soft tube, or catheter, through a large vein.
You can also get chemo:
- By swallowing a pill or liquid
- Via injections in muscle or under skin
- Applied to your skin
You can get chemo at an infusion center, hospital, or at home. Treatment can take from several minutes to hours. Sometimes we can use a small pump that gives a continuous infusion of medicine over several days or weeks.
Some chemo drugs can’t go through a regular IV. If so, you'll need a permanent central line IV or port. If you need long-term therapy, a central line IV makes it easier to give you chemo on a regular basis.
Chemo Side Effects
You may have just a few side effects or you might not have any. What you feel and how severe it is depends on the kind of chemotherapy you get, the dosage, and how your body reacts.
The most common side effects include:
- Changes in memory and concentration (chemo brain)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Lack of appetite
- Infections due to low blood cell counts
- Mouth and throat inflammation and sores
- Reproductive and sex issues
How to Manage the Side Effects
You don't have to suffer without relief. We have support teams, groups, and tips for managing side effects with self-care.