Chemotherapy: What to Expect

With chemotherapy treatment, drugs are used to destroy cancer cells. Unlike radiation or surgery that target specific areas, chemotherapy can work throughout your body. It targets cells that grow and divide quickly, as cancer cells do. But some fast-dividing healthy cells can also be affected, like those of skin, hair, intestines, and bone marrow. Side effects can be brought on by the chemo’s impact on healthy cells.

Getting Ready for Chemotherapy

Each situation may have a different chemotherapy plan. You may be treated with just one type of chemo drug or several. You may go through one treatment cycle, or more. Chemo might be your only cancer treatment, or it could be used along with surgery or radiation.

You and your doctor will decide together the treatment that’s best for you. The decision will be based on:

  • The type of cancer you have
  • The stage of your cancer
  • Your overall health
  • Your previous cancer treatments
  • Your goals and preferences

Keep a list of questions, and bring it when you visit your doctor. To help you remember details, you may want to bring a relative or friend to your appointment.

Bring a list of all the medications and supplements you take, as they may alter the effects of chemo. Your doctor can tell you if you should stop taking any of those drugs before your chemotherapy begins.  And tell your doctor about any health concerns you have before you undergo treatment.

How Chemotherapy Is Given

Depending on the type of chemo drugs you will take, the dose, your hospital, and your insurance, you might get your treatment in any of the following places:

  • Your home
  • The doctor’s office
  • The hospital
  • The hospital’s outpatient unit
  • A clinic

How you will get your chemo treatment depends on the type of drug you will be taking.  You could be given:

  • A pill or capsule
  • A cream or gel you apply directly to the skin
  • An injection or infusion

Sometimes the drug will be given through a catheter, a thin tube a surgeon inserts into a large vein often through the chest. The tube is left in place until chemotherapy is over.

In some cases, the catheter is attached to a small disc under your skin, called a port. A nurse will put a needle into the port to deliver the drug.

The drug can also be put directly into the tumor, either as an injection or a small disk implanted near the tumor releasing the drugs over time.


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