Experts at Houston Methodist use chemotherapy to shrink and kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can either be used by itself or, more commonly, in combination with other cancer treatments, including surgery and radiation therapy.
We offer cancer care at seven locations across the Greater Houston area, allowing you or your loved one to receive treatment close to home or work.
If chemotherapy is needed as part of your care plan, your care team will determine the dose, delivery method, frequency and duration of your treatments. This typically varies based on the type of cancer, size of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread.
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Our physicians support numerous cancer-specific clinical trials, meaning you may have access to new and potentially promising treatments that aren't available elsewhere.
What Is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a systemic cancer treatment that can kill cancer cells anywhere within the body, whether part of the primary tumor or cancer cells that have spread away from the primary tumor (metastasized).
These drugs can be delivered in several ways, including via:
- Intravenous (IV) infusion – the most common chemotherapy, which directly injects chemotherapy drugs into a vein using an IV
- Oral medication – taken as a pill at home
- Topical cream or lotion – a cream to rub on cancerous skin
- Direct placement – may be injected into the spinal fluid (cerebrospinal fluid) or into the brain using a device placed under the scalp
- Hyperthermic (heated) intraoperative peritoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) – delivers chemotherapy into the abdomen immediately after surgery while in the operating room
How Does Chemotherapy Work?
Chemotherapy drugs help treat cancer by interfering with the cell cycle, the process by which new cells form.
Cancer cells typically form new cells quicker than normal cells, making them an ideal target for these drugs. But chemotherapy drugs do not distinguish between cancer cells and healthy tissue, meaning that normal cells can be damaged during chemotherapy, causing side effects.
Many different chemotherapy drugs are used to treat cancer. Your care team will choose the type of chemotherapy most effective for your particular cancer. Additionally, there are other types of systemic therapies that are similar to chemotherapy but that are categorized differently, including targeted therapy, immunotherapy and hormone therapy.
What Are the Side Effects of Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy drugs do not distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells. As a result, chemotherapy side effects include:
- Increased risk of infection
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Low platelet counts that can lead to bleeding problems
- Mouth irritation or sores (mucositis)
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Hair loss (alopecia) over the body
- Skin and nail bed changes
- Menstrual irregularities or menses cessation
- Issues with concentration or short-term memory