The term chemotherapy is used to describe cancer-killing drugs. Chemotherapy may be used to:
HOW CHEMOTHERAPY IS GIVEN
Depending on the type of cancer and where it is found, chemotherapy drugs may be given different ways, including:
When chemotherapy is given over a longer period, a thin catheter can be placed into a large vein near the heart. This is called a central line. The catheter is placed during a minor surgery.
There are many types of catheters, including:
A central line can stay in the body over a long period of time. It will need to be flushed by experienced nursing staff on a weekly to monthly basis to prevent blood clots from forming inside the central line.
Different chemotherapy drugs may be given at the same time or after each other. Patients may receive radiation therapy before, after, or while they are getting chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is most often given in cycles. These cycles may last one day, several days, or a few weeks or more. There will usually be a rest period when no chemotherapy is given between each cycle. A rest period may last for days, weeks, or months. This allows the body and blood counts to recover before the next dose.
Often, chemotherapy is given at a special clinic or at the hospital. Some people are able to receive chemotherapy in their home. If home chemotherapy is given, home health nurses will help with the medicine and IVs. Patients and their family members will receive special training.
SIDE EFFECTS OF CHEMOTHERAPY
Because these medicines travel through the blood to the entire body, chemotherapy is described as a body-wide treatment.
As a result, chemotherapy may damage or kill some normal cells, such as those found in the bone marrow, hair follicles, and the lining of the mouth and the digestive tract.
When this damage occurs, there can be side effects. Some people who receive chemotherapy:
Side effects of chemotherapy depend on many things, including the type of cancer and which drugs are being used. Each patient reacts differently to these drugs. Some newer chemotherapy drugs that better target cancer cells may cause fewer or different side effects.
Your doctor and nurse will explain what you can do at home to prevent or treat side effects, such as:
You will need to have follow-up visits with your doctor and nurse during and after chemotherapy. Blood tests and imaging tests, such as x-rays, MRI, CT, or PET scans will be done to:
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update: 09/09/2015.