Cancer Care

Medical Oncology - Chemotherapy

Caring for you during chemotherapy.

About Medical Oncology - Chemotherapy

You may be anxious to find the right cancer treatment. Or you may be anxious about starting chemo. If chemotherapy is recommended as part of your treatment plan, Ascension’s medical oncology care teams are here to help support you.

You’ve probably heard of chemotherapy as a cancer treatment. But you may still have many questions. Ascension’s oncologists and care teams are here to talk through all your concerns. And we’ll work with you to create a care plan customized to your needs.

Treating cancer, nurturing you

Because chemotherapy is used to help stop or slow down the growth of cancer cells, you might be worried about what else it does to your body. We’re here to support you and help you understand how to manage any side effects.

Care plans designed just for you

You may be surprised to find that chemotherapy options have advanced over the years. For example, precision medicine is a treatment for some types of cancer that matches the right medicine to your specific genetic makeup.

Chemotherapy may be used as your only treatment, or it may be combined with other treatments such as radiation therapy or surgery. Your Ascension care team will work closely with you to determine the treatment plan that’s right for you.

From your initial evaluation through treatment and beyond, our care teams are dedicated to helping you feel comfortable and supported.

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Learn More About Medical Oncology - Chemotherapy

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Chemotherapy FAQs

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy refers to the use of strong medicines to treat cancer. You may hear it called simply "chemo." It has been used for many years and is one of the most common treatments for cancer. In most cases, chemo damages the cancer cell's ability to grow and spread. Different groups of medicines work in different ways to fight cancer.

Chemo may be used alone for some types of cancer. Or it may be given with other treatments such as radiation or surgery. Chemo may also be used along with other cancer medicine treatments, like targeted therapy, hormone therapy, or immunotherapy. Often, a combination of chemo medicines is used to treat a certain type of cancer. These combinations are given in a specific order.

Chemo can work well to treat certain cancers. But chemotherapy medicines can travel to all parts of the body, not just the cancer cells. So, healthy cells can be damaged, too. This can lead to side effects during treatment. Knowing what these side effects are and that they can happen can help you and your caregivers prepare for and manage them.

When is chemo used?

Your healthcare provider may suggest chemo for any of these reasons:

  • Before surgery or radiation. It helps to shrink the tumor so that it's smaller and easier to take out or treat with radiation. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
  • After surgery or radiation. It helps keep any cancer cells that are left from growing and spreading. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. Whether your healthcare provider suggests it depends on the tumor's size, if it has spread and other features.
  • When the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Because chemo travels throughout the body to kill cancer cells, it can be used to kill cancer cells that have spread.
  • To ease problems caused by the cancer. The chemo isn't expected to cure the cancer, but can ease problems. For example, it may shrink a tumor that's pressing on a nerve and causing pain. This is called supportive or palliative care.

How is chemo given?

Chemo can be given in any of these ways:

  • As a pill or liquid you swallow
  • As a shot (injection) into the muscle or fat tissue
  • Directly into the blood stream (intravenously or IV)
  • Applied to the skin (topically)
  • Directly into a body cavity, like the belly, called intracavitary chemo
  • Into your spinal canal to reach your brain and spinal cord (intrathecal or IT)
  • Directly into the bladder for a short time (intravesical)
  • Into a main artery that "feeds" the tumor (intra-arterial)
  • Through a needle into the tumor (intralesional)

Chemo is usually given in cycles to reduce the damage to healthy cells. It also gives them a chance to recover. Each cycle includes a time of treatment and a time of rest with no treatment. Cycles allow the medicines to kill more cancer cells because not all of the cells are dividing at the same time. The rest period gives the healthy cells in your body time to recover and heal. Chemo may be given daily, weekly, every few weeks, or monthly.

Chemo is usually given in an outpatient setting. This may be a hospital, clinic, or healthcare provider's office. People receiving chemo will be watched for reactions during treatments. Since each treatment session may take a while, bring along are encouraged to take along something that is comforting, such as music to listen to. It is also recommended to bring something to help pass the time, such as a deck of cards or a book. Since it is hard to predict how you will feel after chemo, it is important to have someone drive you to and from the treatment the first few times.

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