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Cancer Chemotherapy

Summary

What is cancer chemotherapy?

Cancer chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment. It uses medicines to destroy cancer cells.

Normally, the cells in your body grow and die in a controlled way. Cancer cells keep growing without control. Chemotherapy works by killing the cancer cells, stopping them from spreading, or slowing their growth.

Chemotherapy is used to:

  • Treat cancer by curing the cancer, lessening the chance it will return, or stopping or slowing its growth.
  • Ease cancer symptoms by shrinking tumors that are causing pain and other problems.

What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy does not just destroy cancer cells. It can also harm some healthy cells, which causes side effects.

You may have a lot of side effects, some side effects, or none at all. It depends on the type and amount of chemotherapy you get and how your body reacts.

Some common side effects are:

There are ways to prevent or control some side effects. Talk with your health care provider about how to manage them. Healthy cells usually recover after chemotherapy is over, so most side effects gradually go away.

What can I expect when getting chemotherapy?

You may get chemotherapy in a hospital or at home, a doctor's office, or a medical clinic. You might be given the medicines by mouth, in a shot, as a cream, through a catheter, or intravenously (by IV).

Your treatment plan will depend on the type of cancer you have, which chemotherapy medicines are used, the treatment goals, and how your body responds to the medicines.

Chemotherapy may be given alone or with other treatments. You may get treatment every day, every week, or every month. You may have breaks between treatments so that your body has a chance to build new healthy cells.

NIH: National Cancer Institute

Start Here

  • A to Z List of Cancer Drugs (National Cancer Institute)
  • Chemotherapy (American Cancer Society) Also in Spanish
  • Chemotherapy and You: Support for People with Cancer From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Chemotherapy to Treat Cancer From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish

Living With

  • Eating Hints: Before, during, and after Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Nutrition for People with Cancer during Treatment (American Cancer Society) Also in Spanish

Related Issues

  • Anemia (American Society of Clinical Oncology)
  • Anemia and Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Appetite Loss and Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Bleeding and Bruising (Thrombocytopenia) and Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute)
  • Cancer Patients and Fungal Infections (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Cancer Therapy Interactions with Foods and Dietary Supplements From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute)
  • Cancer Treatments & Oral Health From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research) Also in Spanish
  • Chemo Brain (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Chemotherapy and Hair Loss: What to Expect during Treatment (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Chemotherapy and Sex: Is Sexual Activity OK during Treatment? (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Chemotherapy Side Effects: A Cause of Heart Disease? (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Constipation and Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Diarrhea and Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Edema (Swelling) and Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute)
  • Fatigue and Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute)
  • Hair Loss (Alopecia) and Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Infection and Neutropenia during Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Low Blood Cell Counts: Side Effects of Cancer Treatment (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
  • Managing Cancer-Related Side Effects (American Cancer Society)
  • Memory or Concentration Problems and Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Mouth and Throat Problems during Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Nausea and Vomiting in People with Cancer From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute)
  • Nerve Problems (Peripheral Neuropathy) and Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Pain in People with Cancer From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
  • Skin and Nail Changes during Cancer Treatment From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Urinary and Bladder Problems From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish

Specifics

  • Central Venous Catheter (Central Line) (American Thoracic Society) - PDF
  • Oral Chemotherapy: What You Need to Know (American Cancer Society) Also in Spanish
  • Targeted Therapy to Treat Cancer From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish

Health Check Tools

  • Take 3 Steps Toward Preventing Infections During Cancer Treatment (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish

Clinical Trials

  • ClinicalTrials.gov: Cancer Chemotherapy From the National Institutes of Health (National Institutes of Health)

Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)

  • Article: Exploratory analysis of the effect of a dexamethasone-sparing regimen for prophylaxis...
  • Article: Modulation of myeloid and T cells in vivo by Bruton's tyrosine...
  • Article: Effects of Vitamin D(3) Supplementation on Cardiovascular and Cancer Outcomes by...
  • Cancer Chemotherapy -- see more articles

Reference Desk

  • Dictionary of Cancer Terms From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish

Find an Expert

  • American Cancer Society
  • Find a Cancer Doctor (American Society of Clinical Oncology)
  • National Cancer Institute From the National Institutes of Health Also in Spanish
  • NCI Designated Cancer Centers From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish
  • Organizations that Offer Cancer Support Services From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish

Children

  • Central Lines (Central Venous Catheters) (Nemours Foundation)
  • Chemotherapy (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
  • Implanted Ports (Nemours Foundation)
  • Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC Line) (Nemours Foundation)
  • Side Effects of Chemotherapy and Radiation (For Parents) (Nemours Foundation)
  • Tunneled Central Lines (Nemours Foundation)

Women

  • Sexual Health Issues in Women with Cancer From the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute) Also in Spanish

Patient Handouts

The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.

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