Chemotherapy Overview

Chemotherapy is a term that encompasses drugs used to treat and destroy cancer cells.  Typically it works by interfering with the growth or reproduction of the malignant cells.  The actual mechanism varies by the category in which the drug is classified.

Chemotherapy can be used alone to target certain cancers or in tandem with radiation therapy or surgery.  Frequently, the chemotherapy drugs are combined into specific protocols to maximize its effectiveness. Read more in this chemotherapy patient education guide.

The route of administration for chemotherapy can be by:

  • Oral approach (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

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.

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