Chemical Therapy

Chemo Therapy, as it’s known, is used to treat and often cure cancer. The term Chemo Therapy is an abbreviation of Chemical Therapy. Chemo is defined by the American Cancer Society as any drug used to treat cancer. Some chemo therapy infuses drugs directly into the patient’s blood stream. Some chemo drugs are taken orally.


Chemo drugs are cytotoxic. This means that the drugs are toxic to living cells. These drugs can kill or damage cells that are rapidly reproducing, which are cancer cells. These drugs are toxic to some rapidly reproducing, non-cancer cells as well. This is when patients become ill and have side effects. Cells that produce hair and nails, and skin are cells that rapidly reproduce. Cells in our digestive tract also reapidly reproduce.

Chemo Therapy Side Effects

Some side effects of chemo are well known such as hair loss and skin changes. Some of the side effects that aren’t as known are loss of nails, neuropathy, and “chemo brain.” Check our Side Effects page to learn more.

Common Chemo Therapy Drugs

There are many different chemicals that oncologist can choose from. Each of these chemicals work against specific types of tumors. Scientists have developed protocols to match chemo drugs to the type of cancer that responds best.

  • Adriamycin &  – Breast Cancer
  • Taxol & Taxotere – Breast Cancer
  • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) – Colon, Breast & Gastrointestinal
  • Cytoxan – Leukemia & Lymphoma
  • Paraplatin – Ovarian

Each of these drugs comes with its own set of typical side effects. Doctors working with their patients will make the decision if the benefits of the chemo therapy out weigh risks and side effects.

Administering Chemo Therapy

Chemo administered through the patient’s veins is called infusion.  Many oncologists recommend patients have a mediport installed into their vein rather than have an IV for each chemo infusion. Chemo drugs are harsh to the point of being caustic to veins. Mediports are surgically installed into the jugular vein in the neck under the skin. The actual port is placed in the chest, close to the left shoulder. Chemo treatment can be given as often as weekly. Given the amount of usage the “port” will save patient’s veins from constant intrusion.

First the patient’s blood will be drawn and sent to the lab to check various levels. When the blood work returns satisfactory results the port will be flushed with saline. Then the infusion can begin.

The infusion drugs are prepared by nurses under a medical hood to protect them from exposure to the harsh chemicals.  Each infusion can take anywhere from 3-6 hours. Depending on the drugs being infused the patient may or may not be able to drive after the infusion. Some patients are able to sleep during the infusion some are up talking with family or nurses. Be prepared to spend a few hours at the infusion center.

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center has an informative page on What To Expect With Chemotherapy.

Administering Chemo Therapy
Oral Chemo Therapy

Chemo Therapy is any drug used to treat cancer. Oral chemo is givin in liquid or pill form, taken by mouth, not through a needle. The oral drugs that oncologists prescribe to treat cancer are just as strong as other forms of chemo and works just as well.

Patients don’t have to go to the hospital or infusion center for oral treatment. It is important that patients take their chemo medications exactly as prescribed. Sometimes these drugs are given in rounds in efforts to minimize side effects and damage to healthy cells. If your medications are to be taken in rounds you will need clear instructions on when to begin and end each round.

Oral chemo can cause all the same side effects that infused chemo can cause. The drugs work the same way. Patients should always tell their doctor when they experience any side effects. There are many ways to deal with the side effects. Some ways to deal with side effects are medications, some are home remedies. American Cancer Society has an Oral Chemotherapy page that is very informative.

Chemo Therapy has changed dramatically over the years. Chemo can still cause debilitating side effects, but is less likely to cause damage to organs and bone marrow than chemo of long ago. American Cancer Society has a page that explains the Evolution of Cancer Treatments: Chemotherapy.