Chemotherapy uses cancer cell-destroying drugs to treat tumors. Unlike radiation therapy, which can be targeted to a specific area of the body, chemotherapy affects the entire body. One goal of chemotherapy is get rid of any cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body.
Most drugs used in chemotherapy interfere with cells' ability to divide. This effectively targets rapidly dividing cancer cells. These drugs can also, unfortunately, affect healthy body cells that grow at a rapid rate, such as those responsible for growing hair and replacing the lining of the intestines. As a result, chemotherapy has a variety of side effects, including:
- Tiring easily
- Diarrhea or constipation
- An increased likelihood of infections or other illness due to a depressed immune system
- Effects on your heart, liver or kidneys
Chemotherapy today is much easier to tolerate that it was in the past. Many of these side effects can be treated so that they make less of an impact on the quality of your life during chemotherapy. How many or how intense the side effects you may feel are no indication of how well the therapy is working to treat your cancer.
Many people continue their every day activities with some modifications while they are having chemotherapy. These may include schedule adjustments, a reduced work load, help with household duties or child care
Once the chemotherapy ends, healthy cells usually repair themselves.
The types of drugs used to treat your specific cancer will depend on the type of cancer you have, where the tumor is located, how the cancer has affected your body's normal functions and your general health.
Chemotherapy can be given:
- By vein (intravenously), which is the most common way
- By artery (intraarterially)
- By mouth
- By injection (a shot)
- By being applied to the skin
Chemotherapy can be given in many places including your home, a doctor's office, a clinic, the Cedars-Sinai Outpatient Cancer Center or in the Medical Center. The location will depend on a variety of things including which drug or drugs you are getting and whether you need to be monitored after receiving the drugs.
Chemotherapy may be scheduled daily, weekly or monthly. How long and how often you receive chemotherapy depends on many factors including the kind of cancer you have, the drugs that are being used and how your body responds to them. Chemotherapy is often given in cycles with periods of rest alternating with periods of treatment.