Patient Education

Common Questions about Chemotheraphy

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy (also called chemo) is a type of cancer treatment that uses medications to destroy cancer cells.

How does Chemotherapy work?

  • Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing down the growth of cancer cells which grow and divide quickly. However, it can also harm fast dividing healthy cells, such as those that line the mouth and intestines or those concerned with hair growth.
  • Damage to healthy cells may cause side effects. These side effects often get better or go away after chemotherapy is over.

What does Chemotherapy do?

Depending on the type of cancer and how advanced it is, chemotherapy can:

  • Cure cancer: chemotherapy destroys cancer cells to the point that they can no longer be detected in the body and will not grow back.
  • Control cancer: chemotherapy keeps cancer from spreading, slows down its growth, or destroys cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
  • Ease cancer symptoms (Palliative): chemotherapy shrinks tumors that are causing pain or pressure on important organs in the body.

How is Chemotherapy used?

Sometimes, chemotherapy is used alone, as the only treatment necessary. More often, patients will get chemotherapy along with surgery, radiation therapy, or biological therapy (treatment to boost or restore the ability of the immune system to fight cancer). Chemotherapy can:

  • Reduce tumor size before surgery or radiation therapy. This is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.
  • Destroy cancer cells that may remain after surgery or radiation therapy. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
  • Enhance the effect of radiation therapy and biological therapy.
  • Destroy cancer cells that have returned (recurrent cancer) or spread to other parts of the body (metastatic cancer).

How do doctor decide what regime of Chemotherapy to use?

This choice depends on:

  • The type of cancer: Some chemotherapy is used for a variety of cancer. Others are used for just one or two types.
  • Whether the patient had chemotherapy before.
  • Whether the patient has other health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease.

Is over-the-counter and prescription medication safe to be take while under going Chemotherapy?

  • It is always wise to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications, vitamins, minerals, dietary supplements or herbs.
  • Some of the vitamins, minerals, and dietary supplements or herbs products can change how chemotherapy works. For this reason, it is important for you to tell your doctor or nurse about all the vitamins, minerals, dietary supplements and herbs that you are taking before starting chemotherapy. If you wish to start taking any of these whilst on chemotherapy, discuss with your doctor before doing so.

How to know if the Chemotherapy is working?

  • Your doctor will perform physical examinations and medical tests s to determine how effective your treatment is. Your feeling of well-being will also be considered.
  • It is impossible for you to tell if chemotherapy is working based on its side effects. Some people think that having severe side effects means that chemotherapy is working well, or that no side effects means that chemotherapy is not working. The truth is that side effects have nothing to do with how well chemotherapy is fighting the cancer.