Taking the Worry Out of Treatment
Chemotherapy can be intimidating. Many people have heard negative stories of its side effects. However, with knowledge and tools from your doctor, you can face treatment with confidence.
What Is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy involves the use of certain drugs or medicines to treat cancer. While surgery and radiation focus on treating cancer in one area, chemotherapy works throughout the whole body to destroy cancer cells. If there’s a chance the cancer has spread to areas beyond where it was originally discovered, this treatment is often recommended in addition to, or instead of, surgery or radiation.
You and your medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in cancer and chemotherapy treatment, will meet to discuss your treatment plan. You may receive one type of chemotherapy drug, or a combination of drugs—whatever will work best on your particular type of cancer. You and your doctor will also discuss how you’ll receive treatment, how often it will occur, and for how long.
In addition to chemotherapy, there are other non-radiation and non-surgical treatments that your medical oncologist might recommend, which include:
Hormone Therapy—involves drugs that interfere with hormones, which affect cancers like breast and prostate, to stop or slow the grow of cancer, or prevent it from coming back.
Biotherapy—similar to chemotherapy, this treatment uses medicines that stimulate the body’s immune system to slow, stop, or kill cancer cells.
Targeted Therapy—uses special medicines to kill specific cancer cells by targeting and attaching to the proteins on the cancer cells’ surface, without damaging the normal cells around them.
What to Expect During Treatment
Chemotherapy medicine can be administered in variety of ways, including pill form, injections, topically on the skin, or intravenously (IV). Most commonly, you receive chemotherapy through some sort of IV, whether it’s through a vein in your arm, or through a catheter in your chest, for example.
Receiving the medication typically isn’t painful. You’ll sit in a comfortable chair at one of ThedaCare Cancer Care’s facilities, in a calming, relaxing environment. Treatment usually takes at least a few hours each time, so you’ll want to bring books, magazines, and other things to keep you occupied.
The length of your chemotherapy treatment depends on the type of cancer you have, the stage it’s in, and how it responds to treatment. Every person’s chemotherapy "cycle"—the frequency and duration of when treatment is received—varies. It can last days, weeks, or months. If you need to go through multiple cycles, you’ll have rest cycles in between, so your body can recover and start building new, healthy cells.
While chemotherapy drugs are less toxic than they used to be, they can still cause some pretty significant side effects, which may include:
- Hair loss
- Appetite changes
- Fertility changes
- Skin and nail changes
Fortunately, your doctor can help you cope with these symptoms through medication and other tools, so you can keep on with daily life as comfortably as possible.