Questions and Answers About Chemotherapy
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy (also called chemo) is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer
How does chemotherapy work?
Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which
grow and divide quickly. But it can also harm healthy cells that divide
quickly, such as those that line your mouth and intestines or cause your hair
to grow. Damage to healthy cells may cause side effects. Often, side effects
get better or go away after chemotherapy is over.
What does chemotherapy do?
Depending on your type of cancer and how advanced it is, chemotherapy
- Cure cancer - when chemotherapy destroys cancer cells to
the point that your doctor can no longer detect them in your body and they will
not grow back.
- Control cancer - when chemotherapy keeps cancer from
spreading, slows its growth, or destroys cancer cells that have spread to other
parts of your body.
- Ease cancer symptoms (also called palliative care) - when
chemotherapy shrinks tumors that are causing pain or pressure.
How is chemotherapy used?
Sometimes, chemotherapy is used as the only cancer treatment. But more
often, you will get chemotherapy along with surgery, radiation therapy, or
biological therapy. Chemotherapy can:
- Make a tumor smaller before surgery or radiation therapy. This is called
- Destroy cancer cells that may remain after surgery or radiation therapy.
This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
- Help radiation therapy and biological therapy work better.
- Destroy cancer cells that have come back (recurrent cancer) or spread to
other parts of your body (metastatic cancer).
How does my doctor decide which chemotherapy drugs to use?
This choice depends on:
- The type of cancer you have. Some types of chemotherapy drugs are used for
many types of cancer. Other drugs are used for just one or two types of
- Whether you have had chemotherapy before
- Whether you have other health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease
Where do I go for chemotherapy?
You may receive chemotherapy during a hospital stay, at home, or in a
doctor's office, clinic, or outpatient unit in a hospital (which means you do
not have to stay overnight). No matter where you go for chemotherapy, your
doctor and nurse will watch for side effects and make any needed drug
How often will I receive chemotherapy?
Treatment schedules for chemotherapy vary widely. How often and how long you
get chemotherapy depends on:
- Your type of cancer and how advanced it is
- The goals of treatment (whether chemotherapy is used to cure your cancer,
control its growth, or ease the symptoms)
- The type of chemotherapy
- How your body reacts to chemotherapy
You may receive chemotherapy in cycles. A cycle is a period of chemotherapy
treatment followed by a period of rest. For instance, you might receive 1 week
of chemotherapy followed by 3 weeks of rest. These 4 weeks make up one cycle.
The rest period gives your body a chance to build new healthy cells.