Chemotherapy is a form of drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill fast-growing cancer cells in the body. Different chemotherapy drugs are available today that can be used alone or in combination to treat a wide variety of cancers. Though it is an effective way to treat cancer, chemotherapy also carries several side effects. While some of these side effects are mild and treatable, others might cause serious complications.
Why is chemotherapy done?
Chemotherapy may be used for a variety of settings:
- To cure cancer without other treatments: Chemotherapy can be used as the primary or sole treatment for cancer
- After other treatments: Chemotherapy can be used after other treatments, such as surgery, to destroy any cancer cells that might remain in the body — called adjuvant therapy
- To prepare the patient for other treatments: Chemotherapy can be used to shrink a tumour so that other modalities like radiation and surgery can be employed — called neoadjuvant therapy
- To ease signs and symptoms: Chemotherapy may help alleviate some of the symptoms of cancer — called palliative chemotherapy
What are some common side effects?
Common side effects of chemotherapy drugs include:
- Hair loss
- Loss of appetite
- Mouth sores
- Easy bruising
How are chemotherapy drugs administered?
Chemotherapy drugs can be administered in different ways:
- Intravenous infusions through the arm or chest
- Chemotherapy pills
- Chemotherapy shots
- Chemotherapy creams
- Chemotherapy drugs used to treat one area of the body, like intraperitoneal chemotherapy, intrapleural chemotherapy
- Chemotherapy given directly to the cancer