Chemotherapy is medicine(s) used to kill cancer cells. It is toxic to fast-growing cancer cells. However, it can also affect fast-growing health cells, like blood cells.
It may be the main treatment or part of an overall plan. It can be used to:
The medicine attacks fast-growing cells. It can also hurt healthy cells. This can cause side effects. Side effects vary. It depends on the type of medicine and which healthy cells are affected.
Damage to healthy cells that line the mouth, stomach, and intestines can cause:
Healthy blood cells can be damaged. Damage to blood cells can lead to:
Damage to healthy cells at the root of hairs can cause hair loss.
Other areas 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.
You may need medicine before treatment:
The medical team will talk to you about the best way to give you the medicines. They may be given by:
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The time it will take depends on the type of treatment, the number of medicines, and the amount needed.
Giving you the medicine will usually not cause pain. Side effects may start in the hours and days after.
Most often, you can leave after the medicine is given to you. You may need to stay in a hospital for some treatments. This may be about 2-3 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 October 9, 2017.
Chemotherapy and you: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/chemo-and-you. Updated June 2011. Accessed October 9, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP Last Updated: 5/15/2018