What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a medicine that destroys cancer cells. Chemotherapy works by shutting down cell growth. But since all cells in the body grow, chemotherapy medicines also destroy some normal cells and cause side effects. Not all drugs that treat cancer are considered chemotherapy, for example, immunotherapy Immunotherapy for Cancer Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses your own immune system to fight your cancer. Your immune system consists of cells, tissues, and organs that protect your body from illness and infection... read more is different.
Chemotherapy doesn't work on all cancers
There are many different chemotherapy medicines—the one you get will depend on the type of cancer you have
Most chemotherapy drugs are given through your vein (IV)
Doctors may give you several chemotherapy medicines at the same time or may combine chemotherapy with another type of cancer treatment, such as surgery Surgery for Cancer Cancer surgery is when doctors operate on you to cut out your cancer. Usually, doctors operate only when: The cancer hasn't spread (metastasized) anywhere Your body is strong enough to go through... read more or radiation therapy Radiation Therapy Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses beams of radiation to destroy cancer cells and shrink cancer tumors. Doctors use radiation to treat many types of cancer, including head, neck... read more
Doctors may give you other medicine to lessen the side effects of chemotherapy
Sometimes after you have gotten a chemotherapy drug for a while, the cancer cells become resistant to it. The chemotherapy stops killing them. If this happens, your doctor may try a different drug.
What are the common side effects of chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy has a reputation for unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects. New chemotherapy drugs are often less bothersome than older ones. And doctors now have better treatments for some side effects.
The most common side effects are:
Feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up
Feeling less hungry than usual
Feeling weak and tired
Diarrhea (frequent, loose, or watery poop)
Losing your hair
Mouth or nose sores
Chemotherapy often affects healthy blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. This can lower your number of blood cells, which can cause:
Low blood count (anemia Overview of Anemia Anemia is not having enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all of your other organs. Hemoglobin is the substance inside your red blood cells that... read more ), if your red blood cell count is lowered
Serious infections, if your white cell count is lowered
Bleeding, if your platelet count is lowered
Anemia can cause:
Trouble breathing or chest pain
Infections from low white cell count can cause:
Low platelet count can cause:
Bleeding from your nose, gums, or rectum
Chemotherapy can also affect other organs besides your bone marrow and cause other medical problems:
Damage to your lungs, heart, or liver
Infertility (trouble getting pregnant)
Sometimes a higher chance of getting another cancer such as leukemia Overview of Leukemia Leukemias are cancers of white blood cells or of cells that develop into white blood cells. White blood cells develop from stem cells in the bone marrow. Sometimes the development goes awry... read more