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, lining in stomach, and hair.
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:
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 you have.
Damage to healthy cells that line the mouth, stomach, and intestines can cause:
Damage to blood cells can lead to:
Hair loss may be caused by damage to cells at the root of hairs.
Other areas that may be harmed:
The medical team will choose a plan that works best and has the fewest problems. Other methods may also help manage problems.
Medicine may be given before treatment such as:
Medicine may be given by:
Treatment time will vary. The type of treatment, number of medicines, and the amount needed will all play a role.
Medicine will rarely cause pain as it is delivered. Side effects may start hours or days after.
You can often leave after the medicine is given to you. You may need to stay in a hospital for some treatments. This may be about 2 to 3 days.
You may need to stay in the hospital if there are problems, such as vomiting.
After you are given medicine, you may get:
The time it takes you to feel better will depend on the treatment you had and how your body responds. Some people will need more rest than others. You 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 to find any complications. The tests will help guide future treatments.
Talk to your doctor if you are having problems such as:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
Chemotherapy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/chemotherapy.html. Accessed January 1, 2021.
Chemotherapy and you: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/chemo-and-you. Accessed January 1, 2021.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Nicole Meregian, PA Last Updated: 1/16/2021