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Chemotherapy

Cancer chemotherapy; Cancer drug therapy; Cytotoxic chemotherapy

The term chemotherapy is used to describe cancer-killing drugs. Chemotherapy may be used to:

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HOW CHEMOTHERAPY IS GIVEN

Depending on the type of cancer and where it is found, chemotherapy drugs may be given different ways, including:

When chemotherapy is given over a longer period, a thin catheter can be placed into a large vein near the heart. This is called a central line. The catheter is placed during a minor surgery.

There are many types of catheters, including:

A central line can stay in the body over a long period of time. It will need to be flushed on a weekly to monthly basis to prevent blood clots from forming inside the central line.

Different chemotherapy drugs may be given at the same time or after each other. Radiation therapy may be received before, after, or during chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy is most often given in cycles. These cycles may last 1 day, several days, or a few weeks or more. There will usually be a rest period when no chemotherapy is given between each cycle. A rest period may last for days, weeks, or months. This allows the body and blood counts to recover before the next dose.

Often, chemotherapy is given at a special clinic or at the hospital. Some people are able to receive chemotherapy in their home. If home chemotherapy is given, home health nurses will help with the medicine and IVs. The person getting the chemotherapy and their family members will receive special training.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHEMOTHERAPY

The different types of chemotherapy include:

SIDE EFFECTS OF CHEMOTHERAPY

Because these medicines travel through the blood to the entire body, chemotherapy is described as a bodywide treatment.

As a result, chemotherapy may damage or kill some normal cells. These include bone marrow cells, hair follicles, and cells in the lining of the mouth and the digestive tract.

When this damage occurs, there can be side effects. Some people who receive chemotherapy:

Side effects of chemotherapy depend on many things, including the type of cancer and which drugs are being used. Each person reacts differently to these drugs. Some newer chemotherapy drugs that better target cancer cells may cause fewer or different side effects.

Your health care provider will explain what you can do at home to prevent or treat side effects. These measures include:

You will need to have follow-up visits with your provider during and after chemotherapy. Blood tests and imaging tests, such as x-rays, MRI, CT, or PET scans will be done to:

Related Information

Chemotherapy - what to ask your doctor
After chemotherapy - discharge

References

Collins JM. Cancer pharmacology. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014:chap 29.

Doroshow JH. Approach to the patient with cancer. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 179.

National Cancer Institute website. Chemotherapy to treat cancer. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/chemotherapy. Updated April 29, 2015. Accessed May 15, 2018.

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Review Date: 4/2/2018  

Reviewed By: Richard LoCicero, MD, private practice specializing in hematology and medical oncology, Longstreet Cancer Center, Gainesville, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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