Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Cancer Treatment: What to Expect

If you’ve recently learned you have cancer, you probably have a lot on your mind. Your doctor may have recommended a treatment plan, and you might have concerns about what’s involved and how it will make you feel. 

It’s normal to be nervous or afraid. Taking the time to learn as much as you can about the treatment and what to expect afterward can ease some of your worries, as well as give you a sense of control.

Recommended Related to Cancer

Palliative Sedation

Sedation may be considered for comfort. Patients with advanced cancer or near the end of life may have: A lot of emotional distress and physical pain. Difficult and painful breathing. Confusion (especially when body systems begin to fail). Sedation can be given to ease these conditions. This is called palliative sedation. Deciding to use palliative sedation may be difficult for the family as well as the patient. The patient and family can get support from the health care team and...

Read the Palliative Sedation article > >

You and your doctor will decide what treatment is best for you based on the type of cancer you have, it’s location, and stage. 

Some common cancer treatments include the following.

Surgery

Most people with cancer will have some type of surgery. Doctors may do it to diagnose or find out the extent of the cancer. They may also do surgery to remove tumors, tissue, or areas with cancerous cells, such as lymph nodes. 

In many cases, surgery offers the best chance of wiping out the disease, especially if it hasn’t spread to other parts of the body.

Certain cancers can be treated with: 

  • laser surgery (beams of light) 
  • electrosurgery (electric currents) 
  • cryosurgery (the use of extremely cold temperatures to freeze cancer cells)

Your recovery from the procedure will depend on things such as:

  • the type and stage of your cancer
  • the kind of surgery performed
  • your overall health

 You'll be given medication to block pain and may receive other meds, such as antibiotics to lower the risk of infection during or after your surgery.

Chemotherapy

Chemo uses medications to treat cancer. There are two different ways it can be given:

“Traditional” Chemotherapy 

You get most chemotherapy medication injected into a vein. 

But some types can be given in the muscle, under the skin, or on the skin as a topical treatment, like an ointment.

The side effects vary from person to person, even if you have the same type of cancer and receive the same treatment as someone else. Some of the most common side effects are:

  • fatigue
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • hair loss
  • mouth sores
  • pain

Chemotherapy can sometimes cause long-term side effects, like infertility and nerve damage. Talk to your oncologist about the risks of your treatment plan.

In most cases, you’ll receive your chemotherapy at an outpatient clinic. You won’t know how you’ll tolerate chemo until you’ve had your first treatment. Plan to have someone to drive you home.

Oral (a.k.a. “No Needle”) Chemotherapy 

With this type of chemo, you take a drug (in liquid, tablet, or capsule form) by mouth, at home. Oral chemo is as effective as other forms, but not all chemo drugs can be taken by mouth. Some can’t be absorbed by the stomach and others can be harmful if swallowed. Oral chemo can be more expensive than traditional chemo.

Again, the side effects can vary but are similar to those of traditional chemo. 

If your doctor recommends oral chemo, it’s important to take it exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor right away if you can’t keep your medication down due to vomiting.

WebMD Medical Reference

Today on WebMD

Building a Support System
Blog
cancer fighting foods
SLIDESHOW
 
precancerous lesions slideshow
SLIDESHOW
quit smoking tips
SLIDESHOW
 
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
Blog
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
 
colorectal cancer treatment advances
Video
breast cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
prostate cancer overview
SLIDESHOW
lung cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
Actor Michael Douglas
Article