Chemotherapy (“chemo”) is a treatment for cancer. Chemo can be a single medication. Or, it can be a combination of medications. When used along with surgery or radiation therapy, it can shrink a tumor or prevent its spread.
|Chemotherapy is often given in an outpatient setting.|
How Chemotherapy Works
Chemo kills cells that grow quickly. This is why it kills cancer cells. But it also affects healthy cells that grow fast. This includes cells in the mouth and stomach lining, blood, skin, and hair. This is why side effects, such as hair loss, occur. As a rule, chemo is given in cycles of treatment. There is a time of no treatment between cycles. This lets normal cells recover before the next cycle begins.
The Goals of Chemotherapy
Chemo can kill cancer cells. As a result, it may do the following:
Rid the body of cancer cells that remain after surgery
Reduce symptoms (such as pain)
Control cancer for a period of time
Cause remission (no evidence of the disease on medical testing)
Cure cancer (no evidence of the disease years after treatment)
Risks and Complications
There are risks with chemo. But the benefits usually outweigh the risks. Risks depend on the type of chemo used. Some possible risks include:
Damage to certain organs, such as the heart, kidneys, liver, or lungs
Lasting nerve damage
Another cancer forming at a later time