If you need chemotherapy to treat your cancer, you may have conflicting feelings. You want to beat cancer, no matter what it takes. But you might be nervous about how chemotherapy will affect you.

It’s natural to feel anxious about any cancer treatment. But you can also rest assured, knowing chemotherapy has a long track record of success. It’s helped countless people overcome cancer since the 1950s. And many of today’s chemotherapy drugs are more effective with fewer side effects.

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy (or “chemo”) refers to more than 100 drugs used to kill cancer cells. There are key differences in how individual drugs work. But in general, chemotherapy drugs stop cancer cells from growing or multiplying.

Most people receive chemotherapy intravenously. This means a tiny plastic tube (catheter) will carry medicine into your vein. But chemotherapy can also be given as a pill, a shot, a skin cream or a liquid that you swallow.

The type of chemotherapy you’ll need depends on several factors. These include the kind of cancer you have, the size of your tumor and whether it has spread. Because certain drug combinations kill more cancer cells, you may receive more than one chemotherapy drug at a time. This is called “combination chemotherapy.”

Chemotherapy can be given alone, or with other cancer treatments. It may be used to shrink tumors before surgery or radiation therapy. It may also be used after surgery or radiation, to kill any lingering cancer cells.

Some Mercy locations offer new therapies that can make chemotherapy more effective. 

For example, adults with a brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme may receive chemotherapy paired with a wearable device that creates an electric field around the brain. Together, they help slow or stop cancer cells from growing and multiplying. And some communities offer cold capping at their infusion centers. These caps, cooled to very cold temperatures, are worn before, during and after chemotherapy to reduce hair loss.

Benefits of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy offers many benefits. Depending on your treatment goals, it may be used to:

  • Prevent your cancer from spreading
  • Slow the growth of your cancer
  • Kill cancer cells that have spread to other parts of your body (metastatic cancer)
  • Reduce pain and other problems caused by your tumor
  • Cure your cancer completely

What to Expect When Having Chemotherapy

Your Mercy care team will make sure you understand what to expect before, during and after chemotherapy. For example:

  • Chemotherapy drugs can’t tell the difference between cancer cells and healthy cells. When healthy cells are destroyed, you may have side effects. These include nausea and/or vomiting, fatigue, hair loss, anemia and memory problems. You may also be more prone to infections.
  • Chemotherapy can harm a fetus. Women must take steps to avoid becoming pregnant during treatment.
  • Chemotherapy can also cause infertility in women and men. If you’re concerned about having children, talk to your Mercy doctor. He or she can recommend options to preserve healthy eggs or sperm before you begin treatment.

We know cancer treatments can take a toll on your quality of life. But they can also save your life. When you’re having a tough time coping with chemotherapy, turn to Mercy. We’ll provide the support and encouragement you need to get through this – and get past cancer.

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