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Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or prevent them from reproducing. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment – meaning it enters your bloodstream and travels throughout your entire body. That’s why it’s often used for cancers that have spread.

Today, nearly all chemotherapy is given as an outpatient treatment. You don’t have to stay in the hospital. It’s usually delivered through an IV, although some drugs are given orally (in pill form) so you can take them at home.

Depending on the drug used, chemotherapy can produce various side effects. However, one of the most common side effects – nausea – can be greatly reduced with anti-nausea medications.

Treatment Options

Sometimes chemotherapy is combined with other cancer treatments, like surgery. In that case, the chemo may be given as an adjuvant treatment or neoadjuvant treatment:

  • Adjuvant treatment is delivered after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may remain in your body. If your cancer is large or has spread to your lymph nodes, there could still be some cells left behind – even if your doctor can’t detect any cancer in your tissue. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy can help prevent the cancer from coming back.
  • Neoadjuvant treatment is delivered before surgery to shrink the tumor. This can help improve your surgical results, and even prevent the tumor from recurring in that area.

Lucy’s Story

What You Can Expect During Chemo 
Get an insider’s view of cancer treatment with Lucy’s video diaries. Lucila “Lucy” Morales was 33 when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer. She received chemo infusion at Aurora St. Luke’s.

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