Many different chemotherapy drugs are available. Chemotherapy drugs can be used alone or in combination with other forms of treatment to treat a wide range of cancers.
Though chemotherapy is an effective way to treat many types of cancer, it carries a risk of side effects. Some chemotherapy side effects are mild and treatable, while others can lead to serious complications.
To cure cancer without any other treatments: Chemotherapy can be used as the primary or sole treatment for cancer.
After treatments to kill illusive cancer cells: Chemotherapy can be utilized after treatments, such as surgery, to kill any cancer cells that might remain in the body. Doctors call this adjuvant therapy.
To prepare for other treatments: Chemotherapy can also be used to shrink a tumor to facilitate other treatments, such as radiation and surgery, are possible. Doctors call this neoadjuvant therapy.
To ease signs and symptoms: Chemotherapy may help relieve signs and symptoms of cancer by killing some of the cancer cells. This is called palliative chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy for conditions other than cancer: Some chemotherapy drugs can be used in treating other conditions, such as Bone marrow diseases. Diseases that affect the bone marrow and blood cells may be treated with a bone marrow stem cell transplant. Chemotherapy is often used to prepare for a bone marrow stem cell transplant.
Immune system disorders: Immune system disorders. Lower doses of chemotherapy drugs can help control an overactive immune system in certain diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
The ways of preparing yourself for chemotherapy depends on which drugs you will receive and how they will be administered. Your doctor will give you a specific list of instructions to prepare you for chemotherapy treatments.
You may need to do the following:
Have a device surgically inserted before intravenous chemotherapy: If you will be receiving your chemotherapy intravenously, your doctor may a recommend a device, such as a catheter, port or pump. The catheter or another device is surgically implanted into a large vein, usually in your chest. Chemotherapy drugs can be administered through the device.
Undergo tests and procedures to make sure your body is ready to receive chemotherapy: A blood test to check kidney and liver function and heart test to check for the health of the heart can determine whether your body is in a good condition for chemotherapy. If there happens to be a problem, you may delay your treatment or select a different chemotherapy drug and dosage that is safer for you.
See your dentist: Your doctor may recommend that a dentist checks your teeth for signs of infection. Treating existing infections may reduce the risk of complications during chemotherapy treatment since some chemotherapy may reduce your body's ability to fight infection.
Plan ahead for side effects: Ask your doctor what side effects to expect during and following the chemotherapy and make the appropriate arrangements. For example, if your chemotherapy treatment will lead to infertility, you may wish to consider your options for preserving your sperm or eggs for future use. If your chemotherapy will cause hair loss, consider planning for a head covering.
Make arrangements for help at home and at work: Most chemotherapy treatments are given in an outpatient clinic, which means most people are able to continue working and doing their usual activities during chemotherapy. Your doctor can tell you in general how much the chemotherapy will affect your usual activities, but it's difficult to predict exactly how you'll feel. Ask your doctor if you'll need time off work or help around the house after treatment. Ask your doctor for the details of your chemotherapy treatments so that you can make arrangements for work, children, pets or other commitments.
Prepare for your first treatment: Ask your doctor or chemotherapy nurses how to prepare for chemotherapy. It may be helpful to arrive for your first chemotherapy treatment well-rested. Eat a light meal beforehand in case your chemotherapy medications cause nausea. Have a friend or family member drive you to your first treatment. Most people can drive themselves to and from chemotherapy sessions. But the first time, you may find that the medications make you sleepy or cause other side effects that make driving difficult.
Discuss you treatment options with your doctor. Together you can make a decision on what is the best for you.
How chemotherapy drugs are given
Chemotherapy drugs can be given in a number of ways including:
Chemotherapy infusions: In most cases, chemotherapy is given as an infusion into a vein (intravenously). The drugs can be given by inserting a tube that has a needle into a vein in your arm or into a device in a vein in your chest.
Chemotherapy pills: Certain chemotherapy can be taken in the forms of a pill or capsule.
Chemotherapy shots: Chemotherapy drugs can also be injected with a needle.
Chemotherapy creams: Creams or gels containing chemotherapy drugs can be applied to the skin to treat certain types of cancer.
Chemotherapy used to treat one area of the body: Chemotherapy drugs can also be given directly to one area of the body. For example, chemotherapy drugs can be given directly in the abdomen (intraperitoneal chemotherapy), chest cavity (intrapleural chemotherapy), or central nervous system (intrathecal chemotherapy).Chemotherapy can also be given through the urethra into the bladder (intravesical chemotherapy).
Chemotherapy is given directly to cancer: Chemotherapy can be given directly to cancer or after surgery, in the previous location of cancer.As an example, thin disk-shaped wafers containing chemotherapy drugs can be placed near a tumor during surgery. These wafers breakdown with, releasing chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy may also be injected into a vein or artery that directly feeds a tumor.
How often you receive chemotherapy
Your doctor will determine how often you will receive your treatments based on what drugs you will be given, the characteristics of your cancer and how efficiently your body recovers after every treatment.
Chemotherapy treatment schedules vary. Chemotherapy treatment can be continuous or it may be alternate between periods of rest to let you recover.
Where you receive chemotherapy treatments
Where you will receive your chemotherapy treatments depends on your situation.
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