What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is one among the most commonly used treatments for various types of cancer. These anti-cancer medications work by targeting fast-growing cancer cells either throughout the entire body or in a particular region of the body.

When chemotherapy drugs travel through the blood stream to reach cancer cells, they're referred to as systemic chemotherapy. When these drugs are targeted to a specific area of your body, they're called regional chemotherapy.Chemotherapy may be used:

  • As a primary treatment to destroy cancer cells
  • Before another treatment to shrink a tumor
  • After another treatment to destroy remaining cancer cells
  • To relieve symptoms of advanced cancer

How are chemotherapy drugs given?

The administration of chemotherapy medications will rely on a range of clinical considerations as well as individual preferences. Chemotherapy can be given to you at home, in a clinic or outpatient care facility, at a hospital, or in your physician's office.

Chemotherapy drugs may be administered:

  • Orally: In pill or liquid form are taken by mouth
  • Infusion: Delivered directly into a vein through an intravenous drip. This process may take several hours.
  • Injection: Delivered through a needle injected into a vein, muscle or under the skin
  • Topically: In cream form and are spread on the skin
  • Intrathecal: Delivered directly into the central nervous system
  • Intraperitoneal: Given directly into the abdominal cavity

The negative effects of chemotherapy medications might affect family members and caregivers who come into contact with them. Before determining whether to have their chemotherapy medications (in pill, liquid, or cream form) administered by a medical expert or by themselves, patients should consult their doctor. Patients who might need frequent injections or infusions may decide to obtain a port or catheter so that medications can be given more effectively and painlessly. Your chemotherapy treatment relies on a number of variables, including:

  • The drug prescribed
  • The cancer being treated
  • The stage of the disease
  • The health of the patient
  • The patient’s health history, including previous cancer treatments
  • The patient’s personal preference

Chemotherapy medications may be administered in combinations, in addition to, or before and/or after, other therapies like surgery, targeted therapy, or radiation therapy, depending on your specific treatment needs. Our medical oncologists and cancer care specialists at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) are skilled at identifying cancer and administering chemotherapy. They will consult with you and the rest of your care team frequently to go over chemotherapy alternatives that are tailored to your particular requirements.

What to expect

Every chemotherapy treatment plan is unique and catered to the patient's unique disease, treatment objectives, and personal preferences, much like every patient and every malignancy. Your medical oncologist and care team will discuss your options with you if chemotherapy is included in your treatment plan and will coordinate your dosage and schedule. Chemotherapy is often given in intervals of time known as cycles. Your diagnosis and treatment objectives, among other things, will influence the length of your cycle and the dosages suggested during each cycle.

If you decide to administer your own chemotherapy medications, discuss your dosing regimen, quantities, and drug handling safety procedures with your doctor. Your care team will be able to advise you on where to go, when to go there, and how long the treatments will last if infusion is the best option.

Before chemotherapy

You may want to plan for a lengthy visit to the clinic, infusion center, hospital, or wherever your treatment is being administered since infusion sessions may last for several hours.

  • Drink plenty of fluids before during and after your sessions. Consider whether you will be able to work during your chemotherapy cycle.
  • Wear loose fitting clothes that allow easy access to a port or catheter. Consider bringing a blanket and pillow.
  • Bring a book to read or a tablet or laptop computer to your session.
  • Have a light snack and water handy.
  • Arrange transportation before and after your visit. Consider having a friend, family member or caregiver to support you and keep you company during your session.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask your medical oncologist or other members of your care team any questions about what to expect.

Chemotherapy questions to ask your cancer care team

It's vital to educate yourself and learn as much as you can about the risks, advantages, and side effects of chemotherapy before deciding that it is the best course of treatment for you. To assist you in getting ready, don't be afraid to ask your cancer care team any questions you may have.

Before beginning chemotherapy treatment, the American Cancer Society provides a thorough and useful list of questions you can ask your doctor or nurse. Some of these inquiries are as follows:

  • Which chemotherapy drugs will I be given, and how will they be given to me?
  • How often will I need to get chemotherapy?
  • How long will my treatments last?
  • Will I also need surgery, radiation or both? If so, when and why? What results can I expect?
  • What can I do to get ready for treatment and decrease the chance of side effects?
  • Can I take my other medicines, vitamins and/or supplements while getting chemotherapy?
  • What will we do if this chemotherapy doesn’t work?