Chemotherapy as Cancer Treatment
Chemotherapy, also known as chemo, is the use of drugs or other chemical substances to treat cancer. It is one of a number of cancer treatment options at Loyola Medicine and is often used in conjunction with cancer surgery or radiation therapy.
Chemo also refers to the types of drugs that are used to treat cancer. These drugs can include hormones that affect cancer cells, anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells directly, or biological agents that improve your immune system to fight cancer.
At Loyola, infusion therapy units combine a healing environment with the most progressive treatments and specially trained doctors and staff. We ensure that you know what to expect with chemo and are as comfortable as possible during your treatment.
What Does Chemotherapy Do?
Cancer doctors who specialize in medical oncology and specially trained oncology infusion nurses give chemotherapy. Chemo can be used to:
- Control the spread of cancer
- Cure cancer
- Destroy cancer cells that remain after surgery
- Reduce cancer symptoms
- Shrink a tumor before cancer surgery
If you and your doctor decide that chemotherapy is the best course of treatment for your cancer, the chemotherapy drugs that you receive will be specific for your cancer and proven to be the most effective against your unique cancer.
When choosing the right chemo treatment, your Loyola cancer doctor will consider your cancer type, if it has spread, how it affects your body and your general health. Oncology pharmacists also work closely with physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals to ensure the safe and effective delivery of life-saving chemotherapy and supportive care therapies.
Nearly all cancer therapies use chemotherapy as a form of treatment. See a complete list of all cancers treated at Loyola.
What to Expect
How Does Chemotherapy Work?
Chemo destroys fast-growing cancer cells through drug therapy. Sometimes, it is the only cancer treatment needed; other times, it can be used in combination with cancer surgery, radiation therapy or hyperthermia.
The way chemotherapy is given depends on the drugs used. Most often, chemo is injected into a vein through an IV (also called intravenous or IV therapy). IV therapy can be given in two ways:
- A needle stick through a small vein in your hand or lower arm. The drugs are pushed slowly into the vein or given via IV solution. Once the needle is in place, you should not feel anything.
- Through a catheter. A thin, flexible tube is inserted into a large central vein. This device, called a central venous catheter, reduces the need for multiple needle sticks when receiving treatment. It can be used for as long as chemo is needed and allows for chemo to be given at home, in an outpatient infusion center or at the hospital.
Other options for chemo treatment include oral delivery, in the form of a pill or liquid, or injected into your muscle or fatty tissue.
The length of your chemo treatment will depend on your cancer type, which drugs are used and how you respond to the treatment. It may last a few weeks or up to a year.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
While chemotherapy drugs target fast-growing cancer cells, they also affect normal, healthy cells and can lead to side effects. Side effects depend on your type of cancer and dose of chemo and can include:
- Hair loss
Each person reacts differently to chemo, and some patients have few or no side effects. Be sure to ask your Loyola doctor or nurse to explain the potential side effects of your treatment and how to lessen them with medication or lifestyle changes.