Understanding your chemotherapy treatment
Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatment options for a variety of cancer types. It uses drugs to help destroy or slow the spread of cancer cells in your body.
Many different chemotherapy drugs exist. Most people receive these cancer-fighting drugs through an infusion, but some types are delivered through an injection, pill or topical gel. The specific type of chemotherapy you get depends on what type of cancer you have.
Our team of cancer specialists and patient navigators not only help you get to know more about your chemotherapy options, but also guides you through each step of your care.
How does chemotherapy work?
Cancer cells divide and multiply at a much faster rate than normal cells.
Chemotherapy typically works by targeting this cell division process. These drugs affect fast-dividing cells in various ways so that they can no longer duplicate.
Chemotherapy drugs are usually given throughout your whole body. While they help destroy cancer cells, these drugs also affect other normal fast-dividing cells, like those in your hair or digestive system.
These effects on normal cells are why side effects are common during chemo.
Why Baylor Scott & White Health for chemotherapy treatment?
Our network of Texas cancer center locations makes getting chemotherapy more convenient for you. Often, you’ll be able to stay nearby your family and loved ones during treatment—and that gives you even more support.
In addition to traditional chemotherapy drugs, we also offer innovative immunotherapy drugs and targeted therapies for some types of cancer. Our robust cancer research programs mean you have access to numerous clinical trials as we work to discover new options to defeat cancer.
Most importantly, we realize that your chemotherapy treatment affects more than just your physical health. We surround you with the holistic care you need to stay strong to fight cancer. We’ll help you cope with chemotherapy side effects, connect you with support services and navigate your options.
Cancer chemotherapy drugs fall into several groups based on how they are made and how they affect cells. Your cancer doctor may use one or multiple types of chemotherapy drugs alone or in combination with other therapies, depending on your particular cancer type, as a part of your care.
This type of drug works by affecting the DNA of cells. It causes changes that prevent the cells from dividing and multiplying.
Alkylating agents were one of the first types of chemo drugs developed to fight cancer.
These types of chemotherapy drugs affect cancer cells, specifically when they are dividing.
They mimic normal substances found in the DNA and RNA and prevent cells from copying their DNA. This means the cells are unable to divide.
This group of drugs is made from chemicals that are derived from microorganisms.
But despite their name, they don’t work the same as antibiotics for an infection. Instead, they affect enzymes that are part of the cell division process so that cancer cells can’t reproduce.
This type of chemotherapy works by blocking a type of enzyme (called topoisomerase) that allows DNA strands to break apart and be copied.
When this process is blocked, cells can’t divide and spread.
Mitotic inhibitors are made from plant sources.
They help affect the cell division process so that rapidly multiplying cancer cells are no longer able to divide.
Benefits of chemotherapy
The benefits and risks of chemotherapy vary from drug to drug and person to person. That’s why your cancer care team will carefully choose the chemotherapy drugs shown to be most effective for your specific type and stage of cancer. For some people, chemotherapy may be the right choice only when combined with other care options.
While every cancer is different, some of the benefits of chemotherapy as a treatment option include:
- Prevent cancer from spreading or slow the spread of cancer
- Shrink a tumor enough to improve the ability to remove it
- Help you achieve remission
- Reduce the chance of cancer coming back
- Ease pain or symptoms
Before you start chemotherapy treatment, you’ll talk with your cancer doctor. Your doctor can help you schedule treatment and prepare you for chemotherapy side effects, food restrictions or medication changes.
Chemotherapy can have many physical and emotional side effects. You’ll want to plan for a support person and help around the house. You may also talk to your employer about changes to your work schedule. You may find it helpful to stock up on healthy foods or other supplies so you can focus on resting after chemotherapy treatment.
Many chemotherapy drugs are given as an infusion. At an infusion center, your cancer care team will check your blood and take vital signs. Then, you’ll receive your treatment. The total time needed for your chemo treatments can vary. Many people find it helps to bring a support person with them, as well as activities like a book or tablet, on the day of treatment.
Some people may have a port or catheter placed for the length of their chemotherapy so that an IV doesn’t have to be started each time. Your cancer doctor can recommend what is best for you.
In the days after you receive your drugs, you may have chemotherapy side effects. Your cancer care team can give you some suggestions to ease these, such as rest, nutrition and hydration, medications, or supplements. Because you don’t know how your body will react, plan to have help and support at home after you receive each chemo dose.
Chemotherapy can weaken your immune system. You’ll also want to talk with your care team about how to protect yourself from infections during your chemotherapy cycles.
Your cancer care team is prepared to deal with any and all symptoms symptoms. Please don't hesitate to reach out to your care team early if any symptoms arise.
Chemotherapy side effects
Our cancer care team is here to help you cope with chemotherapy side effects and support you and your loved ones through treatment. Short-term and long-term side effects of chemotherapy vary from person to person. Some people have very few side effects, while others have several. Your cancer doctor can talk to you about the risks and benefits of choosing chemotherapy based on your health.
Some possible side effects of chemotherapy include:
- Hair loss
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation
- Memory changes or “chemo brain”
- Skin or nail changes
- Nerve pain or neuropathy
- Muscle pain
- Lower levels of white and red blood cells
- Reduced ability to fight infections
- Early menopause or fertility issues
- Increased risk of some other cancers
- Heart or lung problems
Recovery after chemotherapy
After your treatment ends, we’re still here to care for you. If you have chemotherapy side effects, many of them will resolve in the weeks following your last treatment. Our survivorship program also offers ongoing support as you navigate any long-term physical and emotional effects from cancer.
As you recover, healthy lifestyle choices often help you regain your sense of well-being after chemotherapy.
These could include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Talking to your doctor about starting exercise
- Using stress reduction techniques
- Stopping tobacco use
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Giving yourself time to heal and accepting help when needed
Be sure to attend any follow-up appointments with your care team for continued success during your recovery.
Finding cancer support
Whether you need a second opinion about your options or help as you cope with the long-term effects of cancer, we have many resources to care for you. Get started by connecting with a patient navigator for support during your treatment journey or for information about getting a second opinion on your diagnosis and care plan.