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What is Chemotherapy?

The word Chemotherapy on page with and assortment of different types of oral chemotherapy medications and a syringe with a vial of medication for chemotherapy administered with an IV infusion

Chemotherapy can be a single drug, or a combination of drugs used to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells throughout the body by preventing their ability to divide and reproduce.

It can be used alone to treat cancer, and in some cases, it is used in combination with surgery or radiation treatments.

With certain cancers, the chemotherapy may be given as a treatment prior to surgery, in an effort to shrink a tumor’s mass. This is known as neo-adjuvant chemotherapy. When it is given after surgery, to kill any remaining cancer cells in the body, it is called adjuvant chemotherapy. It can be used to delay the progression or prevent the recurrence of cancer.

With advanced-stage cancers, palliative chemotherapy may be given to slow the progression of the cancer’s growth. It may also be used to reduce symptoms to help improve a patient’s quality of life.

Oncologists have many effective options today to help treat patients with chemotherapy, however some can cause side effects. Fortunately, many other supportive treatments have been developed that can help minimize the side effects, allowing the patient to have the best quality of life as possible during treatment.

For many years, chemotherapy has been given to a patient in a clinic or hospital and administered intravenously. Thanks to extensive research and clinical trials, there are more drugs available today than ever before to treat cancer, either alone or in combination with other drugs or therapies. Depending on the type of cancer, some patients now may be given an ambulatory infusion pump that can be used at home.

Oral Chemotherapy

This type of chemotherapy is given to a cancer patient in the form of a pill or liquid that is swallowed by mouth. It works the same way as other types of chemotherapy and is just as strong. A patient receiving oral chemotherapy doesn’t need to be in a clinic or hospital to be treated. Instead, they can take the oral chemotherapy at home. While this is a convenience, patients still need to return to the clinic for lab tests, and evaluation of treatment. Oral chemotherapy can be more expensive than traditional types of therapies; some insurance plans may not pay for this type of chemotherapy or the patient’s co-pays may be higher.

If you are prescribed an oral chemotherapy, you will receive specific instructions on how it should be used. In addition, you will receive information on the safe storage, handling and disposal of the chemotherapy. It is important to take the medication on schedule and exactly as prescribed. It’s also important to let your physician and care team know immediately if you have any questions or about any side affects you may be experiencing.

Helpful Resources:

The National Cancer Institute provides a publication for patients to help them learn more about chemotherapy. Chemotherapy and You: Support for People With Cancer is available online and can also be downloaded free of charge.

National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society