Chemotherapy uses medication to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. Knowing what to expect and potential side effects of chemotherapy can help you feel more prepared for your treatment. At Altru Cancer Center, our medical oncologists provide expert care in chemotherapy, and we work with each patient to individualize a cancer treatment plan to meet their needs and goals.
What Is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a type of medication therapy that can be used to cure cancer, help prevent it from returning or slow its progression. Chemotherapy can also help ease some cancer symptoms. One way to classify chemotherapy is based on the order in which it is administered:
- Adjuvant—administered after other primary therapy when there are no signs of cancer present, in order to reduce the risk of recurrence
- Neoadjuvant—administered before other primary therapy (usually surgery) in order to make the cancer easier to remove and to reduce the risk of recurrence
- Radiosensitizing—administered in conjunction with radiation therapy to boost the effects of the radiation therapy
Your provider will determine what type of chemotherapy is best for you, depending on your stage and diagnosis. Chemotherapy medications may be delivered as pills, infusions with a catheter into the abdominal cavity or through a small pump that delivers medicine over several days. One of the most common ways to administer chemotherapy is intravenously (through an IV). You can learn more about how chemotherapy drugs work from the American Cancer Society.
Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy functions by killing fast-growing cancer cells. However, other, noncancerous cells in your body grow fast, as well, and this can cause side effects. The most common nonharmful cells that are damaged during chemo are hair follicles, bone marrow cells, and cells in the mouth, digestive tract and reproductive system. Each person will respond to chemotherapy differently. Some patients may experience severe side effects, and others may have no side effects at all.
Some common side effects of chemotherapy include:
- Appetite changes
- Bruising or bleeding more easily
- Hair loss
- Mouth, tongue or throat sores
- Weight changes
At Altru, we understand that the side effects of cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, can reach far into an individual’s life. That’s why we work with each patient to monitor how they are coping with treatment and provide resources for support.
What to Expect When Going Through Chemotherapy
Your provider will determine your chemotherapy schedule based on several factors, including the type of cancer being treated, how advanced the cancer is and how the chemotherapy is being used in your treatment plan.
Most chemotherapy is performed on an outpatient basis. You will come to the center to receive your treatment, and you will most likely be able to go home the same day. Some forms of chemotherapy can be given at home.
Many chemotherapy drugs are given intravenously, and you will likely receive chemo through a thin catheter connected to a vein. One of our chemotherapy-trained nurses will place the needle in a vein on your hand or forearm. The amount of time your chemo will take varies from patient to patient; it may be a few minutes or several hours. We recommend eating before treatment unless told otherwise by your provider.
During your chemo, your providers will monitor you for side effects. You will also have several follow-up visits so your provider can see how well the chemotherapy is working. Side effects are not an indicator of whether or not chemo is effective, so it is important to visit your doctor often.
For more information about cancer treatment options at Altru, please call Altru Cancer Center at 701.780.5400.