What is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy (“chemo”) uses drugs to attack cancer cells anywhere in the body. It reliably treats cancers such as:
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Gynecologic cancer
- Head and neck cancer
- Lung cancer
- Prostate cancer
When is Chemotherapy Used?
The type of chemotherapy drug you receive depends on the type and stage of cancer you have along with other factors. Sometimes, chemotherapy is the only cancer treatment needed. More commonly, it is used alongside other treatments. For example, oncologists (cancer doctors) often use chemotherapy to:
- Shrink tumors, making them easier to remove surgically
- Kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery or radiation
- Reduce symptoms caused by advanced-stage cancer
Your AnMed team will determine if chemotherapy is appropriate for you and help you understand how it benefits you.
How is Chemotherapy Given?
You’ll most likely receive an intravenous (IV) infusion, which allows the drug to rapidly enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. Infusions can last a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the type of drug.
Your doctor may recommend a special, small port be implanted in your body to make infusion treatments easier with fewer needle pricks. A port is a small opening with a catheter (thin tube) that is threaded directly into a large vein above the right side of the heart.
Other chemo delivery methods include:
- Pills that you can take by mouth at home. This method is convenient but can irritate the stomach lining, causing nausea and vomiting.
- Injections, which are sometimes used when pills cause gastrointestinal problems. Injections absorb faster than pills but slower than infusions.
- Creams for skin cancer
- Intraperitoneal chemotherapy, which sends the drug directly into the stomach or chest cavity, bladder or other body part to better target the cancer site, rather than delivering chemo to your whole body
What to Expect from Chemotherapy
You’ll meet with a medical oncologist (cancer doctor) to discuss when and how often you need chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is often given for three to six months, depending on your stage of cancer. However, you may receive chemotherapy longer to prevent or delay the cancer’s return. This is called maintenance therapy.
Since chemotherapy relies on very powerful drugs, treatment must be paced out in cycles. For example, if your doctor recommends a four-week cycle, you may receive chemotherapy on the first, second and third days of the month. Then, for the next 27 days, you will not receive any drugs. This gives your body’s healthy cells time to recover. The cycle will repeat for as long as needed.
Some cancers need more aggressive treatment with less recovery time between cycles. This is called a dose-dense schedule. Your AnMed cancer care team will determine the appropriate schedule for your cancer type and stage. The team will also monitor the treatment’s effectiveness with CT scans, tumor marker tests, blood tests and other tools.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
Chemotherapy targets any fast-growing cells in your body. This includes cancer, but also cells in the skin, hair, digestive tract, reproductive system and bone marrow, which can cause unwanted side effects.
The most common side effects of chemotherapy are:
- Hair loss
- Easy bruising
- Nausea and vomiting
- Appetite changes
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Mouth sores
- Numbness and tingling due to nerve damage
- Skin and nail changes
- Kidney problems
- Mood changes and inability to concentrate
- Sexual dysfunction
- Fertility issues
Your AnMed cancer care team will discuss potential side effects with you and offer ways to relieve them. We can also recommend support services to help manage stress, symptoms, pain and anxiety and promote good health.
You should contact your cancer care team immediately if you experience a fever, chills, bleeding, rash, unusual pain or bloody stool.
You’ll find a warm and comforting environment at the Cancer Center’s third-floor infusion suite, which includes:
- 24 private infusion bays with recliners, Wi-Fi, cable TV, snacks and a bed if you need to lie down during treatment sessions
- Lab so you can get blood drawn onsite
- A full range of chemo and infusion services, including vaccines and antibiotic therapy
- Nurses specially trained in chemotherapy and infusion
- Pharmacists specially trained in cancer, shortening the time it takes to receive your medicine
Outpatient Infusion is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.