Chemotherapy is a treatment used to kill cancer cells. It involves taking medicines that are toxic to fast-growing cells like cancer cells.
Reasons for Procedure
Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer. The goal is to reduce the number of cancer cells or decrease the size of tumors.
Many types of chemotherapy drugs not only damage the cancer cells but can also damage some of your normal cells. This can create side effects. Side effects will vary between chemotherapy treatments. Your doctor will review a list of possible side effects for your treatment type. Some side effects of chemotherapy include:
You and your doctor will talk about options to help relieve some of these side effects.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
You may be asked to take some pre-medicines such as:
Description of the Procedure
Your doctor will talk to you about the best way to deliver the medicine(s). Chemotherapy drugs may be given by:
How Long Will It Take?
How long it will take depends on the method used, the number of medicines, and the amount of each medicine. A session may be as brief as the time it takes to swallow a pill. It could also take several hours or last overnight. Some types of chemotherapy can be given as a continuous infusion through a portable pump.
Will It Hurt?
The treatment may cause a number of uncomfortable side effects. The delivery of the chemotherapy usually does not hurt.
Average Hospital Stay
Most often, you can leave after the medicine is delivered. Some chemotherapy regimens will require a stay in the hospital. This may be about 2-3 days.
Your doctor may choose to keep you in the hospital if you have complications, such as severe vomiting.
At the Hospital
You may be given any of the following:
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
Your doctor may order any of the following tests to check the progress of your treatment:
Call Your Doctor
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occur:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Cancer Care Ontario
Canadian Cancer Society
Abeloff MD. Clinical Oncology . 2nd ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2000.
Chemotherapy and you. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/chemotherapy-and-you . Accessed April 3, 2013.
Understanding chemotherapy. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.... . Updated August 2008. Accessed April 3, 2013.
10/26/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamicmedical.com/what.php : Adamsen L, Quist M, Andersen C, et al. Effect of a multimodal high intensity exercise intervention in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy: randomised controlled trial. BMJ . 2009;339:b3410.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Michael Woods, MD