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Know the Facts About Chemotherapy

There are different kinds, and they can have different side effects

By National Institutes of Health

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells.

It is also called "chemo."

Today, there are many different kinds of chemotherapy.

So the way you feel during treatment may be very different from someone else.

How Can Chemotherapy Help?

Chemotherapy can be used to:

  •     Destroy cancer cells
  •     Stop cancer cells from spreading
  •     Slow the growth of cancer cells

Chemotherapy can be given alone or with other treatments. It can help other treatments work better. For example, you may get chemotherapy before or after surgery or radiation therapy. Or you may get chemotherapy before a peripheral blood stem cell transplant.

Check with your doctor or nurse before you take any medicine, vitamins, or herbs. Some of these can change the way chemotherapy works. Have all the blood tests your doctor orders. Blood tests help your doctor take care of your health.

How Is Chemotherapy Given?

Chemotherapy can be given in these forms:

  •     An IV (intravenously)

  •     A shot (injection) into a muscle or other part of your body

  •     A pill or a liquid that you swallow

  •     A cream that is rubbed on your skin

When Will I Get Chemotherapy?

You may get treatment every day, every week, or every month. The treatment period is followed by a period of rest when you won't get chemotherapy. This rest period gives your body a chance to build healthy new cells.


Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about your treatment schedule. Ask for a written copy of it, as well.

How Will I Feel During Treatment?

Each person and treatment is different, so it is not always possible to tell how you will feel. Some people feel well enough to keep their normal schedules at home or at work. Others feel more tired.

Today many side effects can be prevented or controlled. Talk with your doctor or nurse to learn what side effects you may have and how to manage them.

Can You Tell Me More About Clinical Trials?

Cancer treatment clinical trials test new treatments to find better ways to treat cancer. By being in a clinical trial, you can try a new treatment that may, or may not, be better than the treatment already being given. Clinical trials are a treatment option for many people with cancer.

Clinical trials are research studies that involve people.

Learn about clinical trials for the type of cancer you have. Then decide if you would like to be in a clinical trial. Here are some questions you can ask:

  •     Are there clinical trials that I can take part in?

  •     Is there information that I can take home to learn more?

  •     How does the new treatment compare with the other treatment choices?

  •     What are the possible benefits, risks, or drawbacks of being in a clinical trial?

  •     How often will I come in for treatment or tests?

  •     Will I have to pay for the treatment or tests? What costs are covered by my health insurance? What costs are not covered?
National Institutes of Health
By National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the nation's medical research agency — making important discoveries that improve health and save lives. NIH is the largest single source of financing for medical research in the world, seeking new ways to cure disease, alleviate suffering and prevent illness. By providing the evidence base for health decisions by individuals and their clinicians, NIH is empowering Americans to embrace healthy living through informed decision-making. NIH is made up of 27 institutes and centers, each with a specific research agenda, focusing on stages of life, like aging or child health, or particular diseases or body systems.

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