What Is Chemotherapy?

Depending on your diagnosis, your physician may recommend chemotherapy as a cancer treatment option. Chemotherapy uses powerful anticancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. New targeted therapies are now available that are less toxic to normal cells, which minimizes side effects and enables the majority of chemotherapy to be given on an outpatient basis.

How is Chemotherapy Given?

Typically, chemotherapy is a combination of drugs or is used in conjunction with other treatment methods, including radiation therapy and surgery.

It may be administered at your doctor's office, at one of our cancer treatment centers or in your home. How often and how long you get chemotherapy will vary depending on the type of cancer, the goals of treatment, the drugs that are used and how your body responds. Under the guidance of your doctor, you may receive chemotherapy every day, week or month.

Normally, the treatment cycles include periods for your body to rest, build healthy cells and regain strength.

Chemotherapy is typically given the following ways:

  • Intravenously, often referred to as IV. Your drugs will be given through a thin needle inserted into a vein in your hand or arm.
  • Through a catheter, a thin tube that's placed into a large vein in your body. Sometimes the catheter is attached to a port, which is a small plastic or metal container placed surgically under the skin.
  • By mouth in pill, capsule or liquid form.
  • Through needle injection into a muscle, under the skin or directly into a cancerous area.
  • Topically, in which the medication is applied to the skin.

What Are the Side Effects?

If you have questions about coping with side effects, talk to your doctor or MyMichigan Health provider. Your concerns will be addressed with understanding and compassion.

Side effects of chemotherapy vary depending on your treatment, and may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting - New medications and other approaches can control or lessen this side effect.
  • Hair loss - Not all cancer treatment causes hair loss. Your doctor or pharmacist can discuss whether this is a likely side effect for your particular treatment. For those patients who do experience hair loss, MyMichigan offers a variety of appearance items such as wigs and scarves at the Looking Glass Shoppe.
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Infection or bleeding
  • Fatigue

MyMichigan Home Care has a Palliative Care Program that specializes in managing the symptoms and side effects associated with your condition and your treatment.

Preparing for Chemotherapy

When receiving chemotherapy, you should:

  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Bring insurance cards, a list of current medications, and names of other doctors and health care providers.
  • Encourage a family member or friend to come along for moral support and transportation, unless you are being treated in your home. The Pardee Cancer Center and other community organizations also offer transportation options.
  • Bring any X-rays or medical records from health care providers and facilities outside of MyMichigan Health facilities in Alma, Alpena, Midland or Mt. Pleasant.

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