Your doctor has recommended chemotherapy and you want to know what this means for you. What is chemotherapy? It’s the use of medications to treat cancer. Depending on the cancer type and its stage, chemotherapy is used to treat cancer, keep it from spreading, slow its cell growth, or to relieve its symptoms.
Chemotherapy, commonly referred to as chemo, destroys cancer cells and stops them from growing or multiplying. Chemotherapy can be used along with radiation therapy, surgery, or both.
How is chemotherapy given? You may be treated in your doctor’s office, a clinic in the hospital, or at home. Some common methods include:
- Intravenous (through your veins)
- Oral (by mouth)
- Intramuscular (injected deep into the muscle)
- Intrathecal (injected into the spinal canal)
Sometimes, a more permanent catheter type is recommended to avoid repeated painful needle sticks into your vein. These permanent catheters are called “central venous catheters” and are placed under your skin’s surface. Chemotherapy, blood, and IV fluids can be given through this catheter, and blood for lab tests can be drawn from this site.
An implantable port can also be used to deliver chemotherapy. It’s round in shape and is usually surgically inserted under your skin surface on the chest wall between your neck and shoulder. To use the port, the nurse will insert a needle through your skin surface to access it.
How long does chemotherapy treatment last? Your dosage schedule is individualized to your treatment plan. This may last a few weeks or up to a year, with varying cycle frequency. Treatments can be once a week, once a month, or other intervals. Treatments are followed by rest cycles to give your body time to build healthy new cells and regain strength.
What are the side effects of chemotherapy? Common side effects may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hair loss
- Anxiety, fear, anger, and depression due to life stress and chemotherapy’s effects on your mood
- Mouth and throat sores
Your potential side effects will depend on your drugs and dosages used to treat your cancer. Your doctor will prepare you for these side effects and recommend ways to cope and manage them including: