Chemotherapy is a treatment used to kill cancer cells. It involves taking medications that are toxic to fast-growing cells like cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer. The goal is to reduce the number of cancer cells or decrease the size of tumors.
Many types of chemotherapy drugs not only damage the cancer cells but can also damage some of your normal cells. This can create side effects. Side effects will vary between chemotherapy treatments. Your doctor will review a list of possible side effects for your treatment type. Some side effects of chemotherapy include:
You and your doctor will talk about options to help relieve some of these side effects.
You may be asked to take some pre-medications such as:
Your doctor will talk to you about the best way to deliver the medication(s). Chemotherapy drugs may be given by:
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How long it will take depends on the method used, the number of medications, and the amount of each medication. A session may be as brief as the time it takes to swallow a pill. It could also take several hours or last overnight. Some types of chemotherapy can be given as a continuous infusion through a portable pump.
The treatment may cause a number of uncomfortable side effects. The delivery of the chemotherapy usually does not hurt.
Most often, you can leave after the medication is delivered. Some chemotherapy treatments will require a stay in the hospital. This may be about 2-3 days.
Your doctor may choose to keep you in the hospital if you have complications, such as severe vomiting.
You may be given any of the following:
When you return home:
Your doctor may order any of the following tests to check the progress of your treatment:
Contact your doctor if you are having difficulty managing chemotherapy or you develop complications such as:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Cancer Care Ontario
Chemotherapy and you: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/chemo-and-you. Updated June 2011. Accessed November 22, 2016.
Understanding chemotherapy. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/chemo-side-effects/understandingchemo. Accessed November 22, 2016.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Mohei Abouzied, MD Last Updated: 9/11/2014