Chemotherapy is any treatment involving the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Cancer chemotherapy may consist of single drugs or combinations of drugs, and can be administered through a vein, injected into a body cavity, or delivered orally in the form of a pill. Chemotherapy is different from surgery or radiation therapy in that cancer-fighting drugs circulate in the blood to parts of the body where cancer might have spread and can kill or eliminate cancer cells at sites great distances from the original cancer. As a result, chemotherapy is considered a systemic treatment.
More than half of all people diagnosed with cancer receive chemotherapy. For millions of people who have cancers that respond well to chemotherapy, this approach helps treat their cancer effectively, enabling them to enjoy full, productive lives. Many side effects once associated with chemotherapy are now easily prevented or controlled, allowing many people to work, travel, and participate in many other normal activities while receiving chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is used to describe a method of cancer treatment. It means “chemical” and “treatment.” Chemotherapy may consist of one drug alone, or several used together in combination. Chemotherapy may be administered a variety of ways: by mouth, by injection into a muscle, or by infusion into a vein.
Anti-cancer drugs work by preventing the growth and multiplication of cancer cells. Because they act on rapidly dividing cells, these drugs can affect normal tissues. The normal cells most likely to be affected are those in the bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive systems, and hair follicles. The individual information sheets provided in this guidebook describe these effects in greater detail, but in general, each patient’s experience with cancer treatment is unique.
What can I expect?
Whether you experience side effects or not depends on many factors. These factors include the type and location of your cancer, its stage of development, its impact on normal bodily functions, the particular chemotherapy drugs in use at the time, and your overall general health when the treatment is given.
Side effects vary greatly from one patient to another and sometimes from one treatment to the next. Although they can be unpleasant, in most cases they are temporary and will gradually disappear once the treatment ceases. In many cases, side effects diminish during treatment as your body adjusts to the therapy.
What should I do?
Before starting treatment with any medicine, notify your TCI care team if you:
- Are allergic to any medicines, either prescription or non-prescription.
- Are pregnant or intend to have children, or are currently breastfeeding an infant.
- Are taking any other medications, either prescription or non-prescription, herbal therapies or vitamins.
- Have any other ongoing medical problems.
If you take some of your chemotherapy at home:
- Take it exactly as directed, generally at the same time each day.
- DO NOT offer it to other people or use it for other medical problems.
- If you miss a dose or vomit shortly after taking a dose, check with your TCI care team about what you should do.
- If you have a fever of 100.5°F or greater, check with your TCI care team before taking that day’s dose.
- Keep this and all medications out of reach of small children.
- Keep all scheduled appointments so that your TCI care team can examine you and evaluate your lab tests for any unwanted effects.