Key Points About Chemotherapy

  • Chemotherapy is often used to destroy cancerous cells, which can grow and divide quickly. It can also be used to shrink tumors, which can be helpful before surgery or radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy treatment can be used to lessen the chance cancer will return or to destroy cancer cells that may remain after surgery or radiation therapy. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
  • If cancer has spread from the main tumor site to other parts of the body, chemotherapy can help destroy those cancer cells.


Oncologists (cancer doctors) use chemotherapy to treat many types of cancer, as well as other conditions. Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses powerful medicine to kill cancerous cells in the body. There are a variety of side effects that can result from this treatment – including nausea, hair loss and fatigue – so it’s important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks for your situation.

Preparing for chemotherapy

Depending on the type of chemotherapy treatment, you may have to prepare for this type of treatment in different ways. For example, some chemotherapy medications are delivered through a special port – or access point – that needs to be placed before chemotherapy. You may also need to undergo blood tests or liver function tests to ensure your body will be able to handle chemotherapy. 

Expectations during chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is delivered in a variety of ways, including infusions through an intravenous (IV) line, orally through pills, capsules or liquids, through shots (injection) or creams you rub onto your skin. The oncologist will provide all the details you need to know about your specific treatment. Chemotherapy can be administered in an outpatient chemotherapy clinic, at a doctor’s office, in the hospital or at home. No matter where you go for chemotherapy, your doctor will watch for any side effects and help you recover from treatment. 

Recovery from chemotherapy

Chemotherapy affects people differently. And how you feel after treatment will depend on the type of chemotherapy, the dose, how advanced the cancer is and how healthy you are before treatment. You may experience one or more of the following side effects of chemotherapy:

  • Bleeding
  • Bruising easily
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain

Many people can continue their normal daily activities, such as work or school while undergoing chemotherapy. You may want to plan a bit more downtime in your schedule to allow your body to rest, especially between treatments.

Common conditions requiring chemotherapy

Doctors recommend chemotherapy to treat the following conditions:

  • Cancer
  • Bone marrow diseases
  • Blood cell diseases
  • Immune system disorders

When should I seek treatment?

If you think you may need to undergo chemotherapy, start by voicing your concerns to your specialist. Communication with your doctor is the best way to make sure you get the information you need.

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