What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is medication that kills cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs are designed to stop the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly. Depending on the type of cancer and how advanced it is, chemotherapy is used to possibly cure, control, or ease the symptoms of cancer.
How is chemotherapy given?
Chemotherapy is given in a variety of ways:
- By vein (intravenous or IV treatment)
- By mouth (orally), in pill, capsule, or liquid form
- On the surface of the skin (topically)
Depending on the type of treatment, chemotherapy may last anywhere from minutes to several hours. Patients who receive multiple chemotherapy treatments in a short amount of time may be given a catheter, port, IV, or pump to make frequent treatments easier and more comfortable.
How do doctors decide which chemotherapy treatment to use?
Treatments depend on the type and severity of the cancer. Some drugs are used for many kinds of cancer, while others are designed for certain types of cancer. Drug choices may also depend on whether patients have had chemotherapy before or if they have other health problems such as diabetes or heart disease.
As a National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center, Huntsman Cancer Institute provides the most current cancer treatments available. Our doctors use national protocols to decide on each patient's treatment plan. National protocols are treatment plans or guides for a particular cancer that have been tested for effectiveness and safety through research.
Where do patients go for chemotherapy?
Patients may receive chemotherapy during a hospital stay, in a doctor's office, in a clinic, in an outpatient unit at a hospital, or at home.
How often do patients receive chemotherapy?
That depends on the type of cancer and the schedule the doctor has prescribed. Most people receive chemotherapy in cycles, which is a period of treatment followed by a period of rest. For example, a patient may receive one week of daily chemotherapy followed by three weeks of rest. These four weeks make up one cycle. The rest period gives the body a chance to build new, healthy cells.
Can patients work during chemotherapy?
Many people can work during chemotherapy. It depends on how well each patient tolerates cancer treatments, the type of work the patient does, and how flexible the work schedule is. Many patients find it helpful to work from home or work part-time during chemotherapy.
Many employers are required by law to accommodate employees who are receiving cancer treatments. Patients can learn more about these laws by talking to their employer or members of the Huntsman Cancer Institute Patient and Family Support team.
Can patients take over-the-counter and prescription medications while getting chemotherapy?
Patients should take only drugs that their health care provider approves. Tell the doctor what over-the-counter and prescription medications currently taken, including laxatives, allergy medicines, cold medicines, and pain relievers.
Can patients take vitamins, herbs, natural, or homeopathic treatments while getting chemotherapy?
Some of these products can change the way chemotherapy works. For this reason, it is important to tell health-care providers about all vitamins, minerals, herbals, dietary supplements, and natural treatments the patient takes. Just because something is labeled "natural" or "herbal" doesn't mean it will not interfere with chemotherapy medications.
How do patients know if chemotherapy treatments are working?
Doctors monitor patients with physical exams and tests such as scans or x-rays to evaluate how chemotherapy medications are working. Some patients believe chemotherapy is working based on side effects, and if side effects are severe, chemotherapy is working well. This is false. Side effects have nothing to do with how well chemotherapy is working.