Chemotherapy is the use of medicines to treat cancer. When cancer occurs, normal cells in the body divide without any control. Chemotherapy fights cancer by stopping these cells from growing and dividing.
During chemotherapy treatments, normal, healthy cells that divide rapidly may also be affected. This is what causes side effects. The normal, healthy cells usually will repair themselves after chemotherapy. There are other medicines and treatments to help with side effects.
Why chemotherapy is given
Chemotherapy is given to achieve different objectives, so it is important to talk with your doctor about the objectives of your treatment. Chemotherapy might be given to cure the cancer, prevent the cancer from spreading, or relieve some of the symptoms caused by cancer.
Types of chemotherapy
There are hundreds of medicines used to fight cancer and many more are being studied to determine if they are effective. Some chemotherapy drugs are used in treating many different kinds of cancer; others are used in one specific form of the disease.
Depending on which drugs are used to fight your cancer, you may need daily, weekly, or monthly treatments. Chemotherapy usually is given at regular intervals, called cycles. A cycle can be one dose or several days in a row of treatment followed by a period of time with no treatment, to allow normal tissues to recover. Your doctor and nurses will discuss your treatment plan with you.
Sometimes chemotherapy is the only treatment used for cancer. It may also be given in conjunction with other treatments, including surgery or radiation therapy.
Ways to administer chemotherapy
Chemotherapy drugs come in various forms and can be given in a number of ways. Most drugs are given intravenously (through an IV). This can vary from a quick infusion given over a few minutes, an infusion lasting a few hours, or a continuous infusion over several days.
If you are to receive chemotherapy through an IV, your doctor or nurse may recommend a catheter. A catheter is a soft tube that is used to insert fluids and medicines into the vein. Catheters can be placed near the bend of the elbow, or under the skin of the upper arm or chest.
Other ways to administer chemotherapy include:
- Orally (by mouth) as either a pill or liquid.
- An injection in the muscle or in the skin.
- Rarely, drugs are used topically – a cream or lotion is applied directly to an area of skin.
Receiving chemotherapy treatment
Most chemotherapy is given in the Aspirus Regional Cancer Center. Our spacious chemotherapy room has relaxing views of Rib Mountain, individual TVs, a VCR with movies and headsets, and individual chemotherapy rooms for those wanting more privacy.
A friend or relative is able to stay with you during treatment as space allows. Children under the age of 18 are not allowed in the chemotherapy room for safety reasons.