Chemotherapy is a term for drugs used to treat and destroy cancer cells. It works by interfering with the growth or reproduction of the malignant (cancerous) cells. Chemotherapy can be used alone to target certain cancers or in together with radiation therapy or surgery. Frequently, chemotherapy drugs are combined to maximize effectiveness. Chemotherapy is administered in the following ways:

  • Oral (pill or liquid to swallow)
  • Injection (into fat or muscle)
  • IV (intravenous infusion directly into the bloodstream)
  • Topical (cream or gel rubbed on the skin)
  • Insertion into body cavity

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Since all cells are affected by chemotherapy, side effects (which vary depending on the particular drug) that may be experienced include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Rash
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Skin discoloration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hyperglycemia (increased blood sugar)
  • Anemia
  • Tinnitus (ringing in ears) or hearing loss
  • Confusion
  • Kidney, bladder or lung damage

Predicting side effects prior to treatment with chemotherapy allows the physician to prevent certain ones with medication to make the treatment more tolerable.