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Cancer Treatment: What to Expect

Chemotherapy continued...

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.

Radiation

This common treatment uses high-energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells to keep them from spreading. Radiation may be used alone, or along with other treatments, including surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation is often given in small doses at a time: 5 days a week for 6 to 7 weeks.

The treatment itself isn't painful, but afterward you may have pain, fatigue, and skin rashes at and around your treatment area. Side effects depend on the site of your cancer; for example, if you’re having head or neck radiation, you may develop a dry mouth.

Other Cancer Treatments

Your doctor may recommend other options as part of your treatment plan, including: 

  • Targeted therapy, in which drugs or other substances block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules.
  • Immunotherapy (including biologic therapy), where substances like antibodies or vaccines are used to stimulate the immune system to help it fight back against cancer.
  • Stem cell (bone marrow) transplants. Doctors use chemo or radiation to destroy as many cancer cells as possible, then try to replace them with stem cells from bone marrow or blood.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT) involves having a type of drug injected into the blood stream. Doctors then use a specific light to interact with the drug in order to kill cancer cells.

Being informed about your cancer and your treatment options will help you feel more comfortable with your plan. With any cancer treatment, it might take a while before you know how your cancer has responded.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 15, 2014
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