What Is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy, also called chemo, is a type of medicine used to treat cancer. It may be recommended on its own, or in conjunction with other treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy. If chemotherapy is a treatment option for you or someone close to you, it is important to learn about how the treatment works and the potential side effects.

There are many types of chemotherapy and the specific type that is right for you will depend on the type and stage of cancer that you have. It may be used to:

  • Slow the growth of the cancer
  • Prevent the cancer from spreading
  • Kill cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body

Chemo can be administered in several ways, the most common of which is through a small plastic tube called a catheter that delivers the drug directly into the bloodstream. How often you require chemo will depend on the type of cancer you have and your goals for treatment.

Potential Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is aimed at killing cancer cells. This type of medicine, however, is very strong and can also affect normal healthy cells. This is why chemo can have a wide range of side effects that you should be aware of before you begin this type of treatment.

Chemo will affect each patient differently. Short-term side effects may include:

  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Moth and skin changes
  • Bone marrow changes
  • Fertility problems
  • Memory changes
  • Emotional changes

Long-term side effects, or late effects, of chemotherapy may include:

  • Increased risk of other cancers
  • Respiratory problems
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cataracts
  • Early menopause
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Infertility
  • Liver problems