Chemotherapy is medicine used to destroy cancer cells. It is toxic to fast-growing cancer cells. It can also affect fast-growing healthy cells, like blood cells, the stomach lining, and hair.
Reasons for Procedure
Chemotherapy is used as a part of cancer treatment. The role it will play will be based on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. Chemotherapy may:
- Cure cancer—Cancer cells are destroyed to the point that cancer can no longer be found in the body. The cancer cells will not grow back.
- Control cancer—Chemotherapy may keep cancer from spreading or slow its growth. It may also destroy cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
- Ease cancer symptoms—It may be given to shrink tumors that are causing pain or pressure.
The medicine attacks fast-growing cells. It can also hurt healthy cells and lead to side effects. Side effects vary. The type of medicine and type of healthy cells affected will determine what symptoms there are.
Damage to healthy cells that line the mouth, stomach, and intestines can cause:
Damage to blood cells can lead to:
- Anemia—low red blood cell count
- Weakened immune system with a higher risk of infections
- Easy bruising and bleeding
Hair loss may be caused by damage to cells at the hair roots.
Other areas that may be harmed:
- Nerves—damage or irritation may cause numbness and tingling in the hands and feet called peripheral neuropathy
- Kidney—medicines can pass into urine and damage kidneys
- Heart—certain medicines can harm the heart muscle
- Reproductive organs—some chemotherapy medicines may cause:
- Menstrual cycle problems
The medical team will choose a plan that works best and has the fewest problems. Other methods may also help manage problems.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Medicine may be given before treatment such as:
- Steroids—to reduce inflammation
- Allergy medicines, such as an antihistamine
- Antiemetics to control nausea
- Antibiotics—to lower the risk of infections
Description of the Procedure
Medicine may be given by:
- IV—needle is placed in a vein in the arm and medicine is slowly passed into the blood
- Mouth—pills or liquids
- Injection that may be:
- Passed into a muscle
- Placed under the skin into fatty tissue
- Intrathecal—injected into tissue that covers the spine and brain
- Intra-arterial—injected into an artery that leads to the cancer
- Intraperitoneal—injected into the area over the belly
- Topical—placed on the skin
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.http://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=68356835chemotherapy.jpgChemotherapyNULLjpgChemotherapyNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\chemotherapy.jpgNULL40NULL2008-01-174002226835_14789Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
How Long Will It Take?
Treatment time will vary. The type of treatment, number of medicines, and the amount needed will all play a role.
Will It Hurt?
Medicine will rarely cause pain as it is delivered. Side effects may start hours or days after.
Average Hospital Stay
People can often leave after the medicine is given to them. Sometimes people need to stay in the hospital for other treatments. This may be about 2 to 3 days.
Some people may also need to stay in the hospital if there are problems, such as vomiting.
At the Hospital
After the medicine is given the doctors may give:
- Injections of an immune-system or blood cell boosting medicine
- Other drugs, such as steroids, allergy medicines, sedatives, and antibiotics
The time it takes to feel better will depend on the treatment and how a person's body responds. Some people will need more rest than others. Some may be able to do regular activities or they may be very impacted.
Follow-up tests will show how the treatment is working. It can also help find any problems. The tests will help guide future treatments.
Problems to Look Out For
Call the doctor if you have:
- Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
- White patches in your mouth or sores in the mouth, throat, or lips
- Problems swallowing
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Vomiting so much that fluids cannot stay down
- Blood in vomit
- Easy bruising, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, new vaginal bleeding
- Blood in the urine (pee) or stool (poop)
- Having to urinate more often or having burning when urinating
- Chest pain
- Problems breathing or cough
- Calf pain, swelling, or redness in the legs or feet
- Abnormal vaginal leaking, itching, or odor
- New pain or pain that cannot be controlled with the medicines given
- Numbness, tingling, or pain in the limbs
- Joint pain, stiffness, rash, or other new problems
- Redness, swelling, pain, bleeding, or a pimple at the site of the IV
- Headache or stiff neck
- Problems hearing or seeing
- Ringing in the ears
- Exposure to someone with an illness that can spread, such as chickenpox
- Weight gain or loss of 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) or more
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
- Chemotherapy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/chemotherapy.html.
- Chemotherapy and you: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/chemo-and-you.
- Oral and gastrointestinal toxicities of chemotherapeutic agents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/drug-review/oral-and-gastrointestinal-toxicities-of-chemotherapeutic-agents.
(C) Copyright 2023 EBSCO Information Services
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at email@example.com.