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Chemotherapy is the most recommended treatment for cancer. Read this article to know more.

Written by

Dr. Lochana .k

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ram Abhinav. K

Published At February 12, 2021
Reviewed AtApril 30, 2024

What Is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a treatment that involves the usage of drugs and other powerful chemicals to destroy the cells that are growing very fast. By killing these dangerous cells, it is possible to cure the condition like cancer. Chemotherapy can be used for various purposes, but its useful effects in cancer are particularly noted. The method of chemotherapy involves the usage of drugs either alone or in combination with others. The main problem associated with chemotherapy treatment is the occurrence of side effects. If the disadvantages are mild, then it is possible to proceed with the treatment plan. In case of severe complications with chemotherapy, might make the condition even more severe.

What Are the Conditions That Can Be Treated by Chemotherapy?

In addition to cancer, the following conditions can be treated with support from chemotherapy.

  • Immune System Disorders: When chemotherapy drugs are given at a lower dosage, it is possible to cure a few immune system-related disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

  • Diseases of the Bone Marrow: In patients who are suffering from severe problems with bone marrow, the treatment option available for them is a stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant. For these procedures, the help of chemotherapy is mandatory.

What Are the Goals of Chemotherapy?

The main aim of chemotherapy is to achieve the following.

  • Cure: This is the main criterion for chemotherapy treatment. When a chemotherapy drug is used, it is necessary for the drug to give a complete cure. This means that the condition for which it has been given should be subsided completely without any path for recurrence. In most cases, chemotherapy drugs are successful in curing the condition, but there are problems associated with the recurrence.

  • Control: If the first goal is impossible to achieve, then doctors must plan to at least control the ill effects of the condition. When a complete cure cannot be achieved, then we might focus on restricting the spread of the condition to other vital organs. By doing so, the lifespan of the patient can be increased. For example, diabetes seems to be a never-ending health condition for some patients. We can restrict the severity of the disease by controlling the blood sugar levels.

  • Palliation: In advanced stages, where both cure and control aspects cannot be implemented, then the patient might go for a palliative method goal. Here, the main focus is given to relieving the painful symptoms of the patient. The symptoms that are causing discomfort to a greater level are also relieved. For example, the chemotherapy drugs that are given for tumors might cause a shrinkage in the size of the tumor. This will reduce the intensity of the pain faced by the patient.

How Is the Patient Prepared for the Chemotherapy Treatment Method?

The patient will undergo a preparatory phase before going for the chemotherapy treatment. Variations are made in the preparation depending on the health condition and immune status of an individual. The following steps are followed:

Insertion of the device with the help of surgical methods before chemotherapy treatment. If the patient is planning to get intravenous administration of chemotherapy, then the doctor will advise going for a particular device called a catheter, pump, or port. These devices are implanted surgically into a larger vein. This larger vein is usually found in the chest region. However, the insertion is not always required for delivering the chemotherapy.

The patient has to undergo various treatment procedures and tests to check whether they are eligible physically and mentally to receive the treatment. The functioning of the liver and kidney is detected before the chemotherapy treatment. The patient decides on the treatment plan based on the results of the tests and blood examination.

The patient is educated about the possible side effects of chemotherapy treatment. This will help the patient to be prepared for the treatment. It is also essential to understand the mentality of the patient. Some patients might already be worried about their condition. In such situations, it is not advisable to discuss the side effects as they might get depressed more.

What Can One Expect About Chemotherapy?

The selection of chemotherapy drugs depends on various factors such as the type and stage of cancer, the patient's overall health, previous treatments, as well as their personal goals and preferences. These factors are carefully considered by the doctor when determining the most suitable chemotherapy regimen for each individual. By discussing treatment options with their healthcare provider, patients can actively participate in the decision-making process and choose the approach that aligns best with their needs and circumstances. This collaborative approach ensures that the chosen chemotherapy drugs are tailored to address the specific characteristics of the cancer while also taking into account the patient's overall well-being and treatment preferences.

What Are the Ways of Administration of the Chemotherapy Agents?

The chemotherapy agents can be administered in the following ways.

  • Chemotherapy Pills - The drugs can be taken in the form of capsules and pills.

  • Chemotherapy Shots - The chemotherapeutic agent is given in the form of an injection.

  • Chemotherapy Infusion - Chemotherapy infusion refers to the administration of drugs through the veins.

  • Chemotherapy Creams - The chemotherapy drugs can be applied to the skin with the help of gels and drugs. It is most importantly necessary to treat cancer of the skin.

What Occurs During the Chemotherapy Treatment?

During treatment, the administration of chemotherapy drugs varies depending on the method chosen by the oncologist. Chemotherapy is usually systemic, meaning the drugs circulate throughout the entire body. This can be done through:

  • Intravenous (IV) Infusion: The chemotherapy is delivered directly into a vein, which is the most common method.

  • Injection: The chemotherapy is administered as a shot.

  • Oral Ingestion: The chemotherapy is taken as a pill or liquid, which is swallowed.

  • Topical Application: The chemotherapy is applied as a cream that is rubbed onto the skin.

For certain cancers that do not respond well to systemic chemotherapy, treatment may need to be directed to a specific area of the body. Examples include:

  • Intra-Arterial Chemotherapy: This method targets a single artery that supplies blood to a tumor.

  • Intracavitary Chemotherapy: The chemotherapy is delivered directly into a body cavity, such as the bladder or abdomen. One example of this is hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), which involves introducing heated chemotherapy into the abdominal cavity after surgery.

  • Intrathecal Chemotherapy: The chemotherapy is injected into the space between the brain and spinal cord.

What Is the Procedure for Administering Intravenous (IV) Chemotherapy Drugs?

The primary method of administering chemotherapy is through the intravenous route. Chemotherapy is delivered directly into a vein through:

  • A needle is usually inserted in the arm.

  • A catheter is a thin, flexible tube connected to a vein, often placed in the chest.

  • A port, a small disc implanted under the skin, requiring minor surgery. A catheter connects to the port to administer chemotherapy.

  • A pump is a device attached to a catheter or port that regulates the dosage of the chemotherapy drug.

Catheters and ports are advantageous for multiple chemotherapy sessions, eliminating the need for frequent needle insertions in the arm. They may be used by oncologists to administer other medications, such as antibiotics or antiemetics.

What Are the Side Effects of Chemotherapy?

The common side effects involved in chemotherapy treatment are:

  • Vomiting.

  • Nausea.

  • Hair loss.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Fatigue.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Bleeding.

  • Mouth sores.

  • Fever.

  • Pain.

  • Easy bruising.

  • Constipation.

  • Alteration in sexual interest.

In some patients, the side effects caused by chemotherapy drugs are not evident for many months. After a long duration, the following symptoms are identified.

  • Kidney problems.

  • Infertility.

  • Risk of second cancer.

  • Heart problems.

  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage).

How Is the Dosage of Chemotherapy Decided?

The dosage is adjusted according to the following criteria.

  • Older people.

  • Poor nutrition.

  • Obesity.

  • Medications.

  • People who are getting radiation therapy.

  • Patients are having poor blood cell counts.

  • Liver and kidney diseases.

  • Patients who are unable to tolerate the full doses.

The dosage of the chemotherapy drugs is adjusted according to the outcomes of the treatment.


Chemotherapy is a common cancer treatment. It can be used alone or combined with other treatments such as radiation therapy, surgery, or other drugs. After chemotherapy or any cancer treatment, cancer can recur. Following treatment, follow-up visits are often scheduled to monitor for signs of the disease. If cancer returns, additional chemotherapy cycles may be recommended by the oncologist for treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions


Does Chemotherapy Cause Pain?

Intravenous chemotherapy is not generally affiliated with pain. However, there may be a slight burning sensation when it enters, usually only for a brief period, and resolves as the infusion advances. Nevertheless, the drugs or tumor's adverse effects can cause neuropathic pain.


Which Stage of Cancer Requires Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy can be used at any stage of cancer and also for any cancer type. It is used in several ways that include the following:
- Adjuvant therapy- After surgery to prevent recurrence of the tumor.
- Neoadjuvant therapy- Before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor.
- Concurrent therapy-Alteration with radiotherapy in aggressive cancers.
- Palliative therapy- Alleviate the symptoms, improve the quality of life, and expand the lifespan.


Does Chemotherapy Give an Aged Appearance?

Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments like radiotherapy can result in premature or accelerated aging at the genetic and cellular levels.


How Many Cycles of Chemotherapy Are Required?

Generally, in the treatment of any tumor, four to eight cycles of chemotherapy may be required. A sequence of cycles is termed a course, usually completed in three to six months, and any cancer treatment may demand more than one course of chemotherapy.


Is It Risky to Have Someone Around When on Chemotherapy?

The drugs used in chemotherapy may have dangerous effects on the people exposed to it. These drugs help in cancer treatment by ruining or destroying the cancer cells, however, it can be a problem of concern if exposed to other healthy people.


What Are the Things to Be Avoided During Chemotherapy?

- Contact with body fluids like urine, stool, and vomit.
- Forcing yourself to work.
- Contracting infections.
- Overeating or not eating.
- Raw or undercooked foods.
- Acidic, spicy, or solid foods.
- Increased alcohol consumption.
- Smoking.
- Unwanted ultraviolet light exposure.


What Gives a Better Feeling in Chemotherapy Patients?

- Set up a supportive family network.
- Inform your oncologist about all the medications you are taking, including the vitamin supplements.
- Hydrate your body a day before and after chemotherapy.
- Engage yourself with other activities while you are in treatment.
- Wear soft and loose-fitting clothes.
- Get tablets prescribed for nausea and vomiting.
- Avoid an infection.
- Eat healthily and try to maintain your body weight.
- Maintain sleeping patterns.


Can Chemotherapy Result in Weight Loss?

Though chemotherapy does not itself cause weight loss, it has several factors that contribute to it. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes, foul taste and smell can cause aversion to food and loss of essential nutrients, resulting in loss of weight after chemotherapy.


Is Hair Fall Associated With Chemotherapy?

Hair loss is seen in chemotherapy because the drugs affect all the body's cells, including the mouth lining, hair follicles, and stomach. As a result, hair loss includes scalp hair and the hair in the eyebrows, eyelashes, and pubic area and is one of the most upsetting parts of chemotherapy.


What Should Be Done to Boost My Immune System During Chemotherapy?

- Using protective drugs to boost your immunity.
- Getting the flu shot annually.
- Nutrition-rich diet.
- Frequently wash your hands.
- Avoiding contact with sick people.
- Avoiding contact with animal waste.
- Informing the infection signs instantly.
- Asking advice from the cancer care team about particular activities.


What Are the Healthiest Foods to Be Taken During Chemotherapy?

- Oats meal.
- Avocado.
- Eggs.
- Broth or soup.
- Almonds, cashews, and other nuts.
- Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.
- Pumpkin seeds.
- Home-made fruit or vegetable smoothies.
- Bread.
- Fish.


What Are the Different Types of Chemotherapy Drugs?

- Alkylating agents.
- Antitumor antibiotics.
- Nitrosoureas.
- Hormonal agents include sex hormones and corticosteroids.
- Topoisomerase inhibitors.
- Anti-metabolites.
- Biological response modifiers.
- Mitotic inhibitors.


What Happens During a Chemotherapy Treatment?

Before starting your chemotherapy, the type, number of sessions, interval between each session will be decided by your cancer care team, depending on the type and stage of cancer. Then, the drug is administered intravenously either directly or through a cannula, peripherally inserted central catheter, central line, or an imported port.


What Is the Duration of Chemotherapy?

Duration of chemotherapy depends on various factors, including the tumor type and extent, drug selection, and toxicity. A single course of chemotherapy takes about four to six months, and most cancers need more than one course.
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Dr. Lochana .k
Dr. Lochana .k



immunological disorderchemotherapycancerbone marrow suppression
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