Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. Chemotherapy has been used for many years and is one of the most common treatments for cancer. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell's ability to grow or reproduce. Chemotherapy may be used alone for some types of cancer or in combination with other treatments such as radiation or surgery. Often, a combination of chemotherapy drugs is used to fight a specific cancer.
While chemotherapy can be quite effective in treating certain cancers, chemotherapy drugs reach all parts of the body, not just the cancer cells. Because of this, there can be many side effects during treatment. Being able to anticipate these side effects can help you and your caregivers prepare and, in some cases, prevent these symptoms from occurring.
How is chemotherapy administered?
Chemotherapy can be given:
- As a pill to swallow
- As an injection (shot) into the muscle or fat tissue
- Intravenously (directly to the bloodstream; also called IV)
- Topically (applied to the skin)
- Directly into a body cavity
To reduce the damage to healthy cells and to give them a chance to recover, chemotherapy is usually given in cycles. Chemotherapy may be given daily, weekly, every few weeks, or monthly, depending on your situation.
Chemotherapy is usually given in an outpatient setting, such as a hospital, clinic, or doctor's office. Patients receiving chemotherapy will be watched for reactions during treatments. Since each chemotherapy treatment session may last for a while, patients are encouraged to take along something that is comforting, such as music to listen to. It is also recommended to bring something to help pass the time, such as a deck of cards or a book.