Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Methodist Cancer Center - Texas Medical Center

Chemotherapy

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Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells, usually by making them unable to grow and divide. Unlike radiation, which focuses on specific areas, chemotherapy usually affects the entire body, which is why it’s often used to treat cancers that have metastasized or spread.

How Chemotherapy Works
Preparing for Chemotherapy
What to Expect From Chemotherapy
Side Effects of Chemotherapy
After Chemotherapy

How Chemotherapy Works
Most chemotherapy treatments involve a combination of drugs—sometimes casually referred to as a “cocktail”—tailored to treat the specific type and stage of your cancer. Chemo drugs may also kill healthy cells, but these cells can repair themselves while cancer cells cannot.

Chemotherapy can serve several purposes as part of cancer treatment, including:

  • Shrinking a tumor before surgery
  • “Cleaning up” cancer cells left behind after surgery
  • In combination with other methods (such as radiation therapy) if surgery is not an option or if an earlier cancer has returned

Your chemotherapy can be delivered through several different methods, depending on the type and stage of cancer being treated:

  • Intravenous Medication: This is the most common delivery method for chemotherapy, in which the medication is injected directly into a vein through an IV line.
  • Oral Medication: Some chemotherapy can be taken as a pill; you’ll be able to take it at home, but make sure to follow your doctor’s directions carefully.
  • Topical Cream or Lotion: For certain types of skin cancer, you may be given a cream to rub onto the cancerous patch of skin.

Preparing for Chemotherapy
If you are having IV chemo treatments, it’s a good idea to arrange for transportation to and from the hospital or clinic, at least for the first few appointments.

Depending on the type and dosage of drugs involved in your chemo, your doctor may have specific instructions about eating, drinking, taking medications and other activities prior to your appointment. Make sure you understand and follow these instructions closely.

 

What to Expect From Chemotherapy
If you are taking chemotherapy through oral medication or through a topical cream, you’ll be able to take it at home; just make sure to follow your doctor’s instructions exactly.

If your doctor has prescribed intravenous chemo, you will have your treatments at a clinic or hospital. At your first appointment, a catheter or a port may be inserted and remain in place for the duration of your treatment cycle. This will make it easier for your treatment team to get to larger veins each time chemo is given.

Because there are many different approaches to chemotherapy, make sure you talk to your doctor about exactly what to expect.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Depending on the type and dosage of drugs you receive in your chemotherapy treatments, you may experience one or more of the following side effects:

  • Fatigue
  • Higher risk of infection due to a low white blood cell count
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea

Your doctor may prescribe medication to manage any side effects, most of which usually go away when your chemotherapy treatment is complete.

After Chemotherapy
Before your chemotherapy treatments end, make sure to talk to your doctor about:

  • When you can return to normal activities
  • When to schedule a follow-up appointment with him or her
  • Which tests will need to be done and when
  • Any special dietary instructions
  • Warning signs to watch out for

Learn more about cancer treatment:

For more information about chemotherapy at the Methodist Cancer Center or to make an appointment, call us at 713-790-2700.