An Overview of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a medical treatment using powerful drug chemicals that target cancerous cells. Generally, chemotherapy is used to treat cancer cells that multiple in the body. Patients may receive chemotherapy treatment for various forms of cancer such as lung or uterine cancer.

Stages of cancer often determine how and to what degree a patient receives chemotherapy. Some patients receive this treatment in hopes of curing the cancer. Others might receive chemotherapy to slow the growth of cancer cells.

Ways Chemotherapy is Given

There are several ways that patients may receive chemotherapy treatment. Intravenous chemotherapy involves surgically implanting a device such as a pump or catheter into a vein. Injection therapy involves giving patients a shot in the arm, hip, or thigh muscle.

Intra-arterial chemotheraphy inserts the drug into the artery that feeds the cancer. Intra-peritoneal is another form of therapy where the drug is injected into the area of the body known as the peritoneal cavity. This area includes the stomach, liver, intestines, and ovaries.

Some patients may receive chemotherapy orally. The drug is taken in liquid, capsule, or pill form to fight cancer cells.

Side Effects

Patients can experience significant side effects regardless of how they receive chemotherapy. Side effects vary based on the type of chemotherapy drug that is used. Common side effects during treatment may include hair loss, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

Often, doctors can prescribe remedies to treat or prevent these side effects. For many patients, side effects cease after treatment stops.

Patients may also experience long-term side effects that could lead to other health problems. Others may not experience side effects until months or years after chemotherapy. Some of these may include:

- Lung tissue damage - Problems with the kidney or heart - A risk of developing a second type of cancer - Infertility - Damage to nerves, also known as peripheral neuropathy

Typically, doctors will discuss the risks of late side effects with patients before treatment begins. This discussion should also inform patients about the signs and symptoms that may indicate a serious problem.

Other Medical Reasons for Chemotherapy

There are other reasons patients may need chemotherapy treatment. Medical professionals use chemotherapy as a follow-up treatment to kill cancer cells remaining in the body after surgery. Some patients receive chemotherapy to shrink the size of a tumor to help improve the effects of radiation or surgery. In advanced stages of cancer, patients may receive chemotherapy to ease the pain.