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Cancer Health Center

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Chemotherapy: How It Works and How You'll Feel

How You Get Chemotherapy continued...

In some cases, you might need to get a drug through a catheter, which is a thin tube a surgeon puts into a large vein, often in the chest. The tube will stay in place until chemotherapy is over.

In some cases, the catheter is attached to a small disc under your skin called a port. A nurse will put a needle into the port to deliver the drug.

Doctors can also put the drug directly into the tumor, either as an injection or a small disk implanted near the tumor that releases the drugs over time.

How Long Chemotherapy Takes

The length of treatment varies. Whatever your plan is, it’s important to follow it precisely. The doctor will tell you exactly how much of a drug you need and when you’ll get it. That means you can't skip appointments, or if you’re getting your chemo at home, you can’t change the amount or timing of your medication.

Usually, the doctor will prescribe a specific number of cycles for your treatment. A cycle is the number of days you take a drug and the number of days you don't. For example, your cycle may be 3 weeks long -- 2 weeks of daily chemo followed by 1 week of no therapy. The time without therapy is important because it gives your body’s healthy cells a chance to recover.

Depending on how your body reacts to treatment, your doctor may make changes to your plan.

Side Effects

Talk with your doctor about how chemo might make you feel before you start therapy. Some people don’t have any side effects, but most will have at least some. The way the treatment affects you will depend on many things, including the drug you take, how healthy you are overall, and the type and stage of cancer you have.

There are some common side effects that usually go away once treatment is over. They include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Bowel and bladder problems
  • Hair loss
  • Infections

Longer-lasting side effects can include sexual and fertility problems and nerve damage.

There are almost always ways to handle these problems to help you feel better. Talk to your doctor about what to expect on the day of treatment as well as after it’s over.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 28, 2015
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