About chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is used to fight almost every type of cancer. Your treatment plan will be personalized to you, and your care team will include oncologists (cancer doctors) who prescribe and provide chemotherapy as part of your individual treatment plan. Chemotherapy may be taken as pills or shots or, more commonly, received through a tube placed in a vein. You may receive one or more medicines depending on your type and stage of cancer. You may receive chemotherapy treatments each day, each week or each month for several weeks or months.

Because no two people are the same, your treatment will differ based on your personal needs. While undergoing cancer treatment is never something anyone wants to face, you’ll have a team of experts on your side who will be with you each step of the way.

What can you expect during chemotherapy treatments?

You may receive chemotherapy at a hospital or at an outpatient infusion center, and treatment sessions can last anywhere from two to ten hours. You should dress comfortably and make sure a nurse can easily get to the vein where you receive chemotherapy.

Because it takes hours to receive treatment, you’re encouraged to bring snacks, books, games and other forms of entertainment. Many people find it comforting and helpful to bring a friend with you since the treatment may make you too tired to drive. A friend can also help you pass the time and they’re welcome to stay with you during the duration of your treatment.

Types of chemotherapy

The type of chemotherapy recommended will be unique to you, based on your cancer type and personalized treatment plan. Different kinds of chemotherapy include:

  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy: Shrinks tumors before surgical operations to make them easier for surgeons to remove or makes cancer easier to target with radiation
  • Adjuvant therapy: Chemotherapy after surgery or radiation therapy to kill any cancer cells that were left behind
  • Palliative (comfort) care: Chemotherapy that can ease cancer symptoms, such as pain, by shrinking cancer tumors

Potential side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can have side effects, most commonly feeling very tired (fatigue). What side effects you experience will depend on what chemotherapy medicines you’re taking and your body’s own response to treatment.

Other common side effects include:

  • Feeling sick to your stomach (nausea)
  • Throwing up
  • Hair loss
  • Increased risk of getting infections or getting sick
  • Sores in your mouth
  • Skin reactions like rash, dry skin, acne or peeling skin

While never a guarantee, you can prevent and manage some chemotherapy side effects. For instance, frequently brushing your teeth helps prevent mouth sores. Anti-nausea medicines can help prevent nausea and vomiting. As chemotherapy medicines advance and become more targeted, people have fewer side effects from it.

Please talk to your doctor or nurse navigator about any questions you have about chemotherapy. No question is too small — we're here to help you.


Cancer Care

From diagnosis and throughout treatment, Main Line Health cancer specialists (oncologists) provide compassionate care for you and your loved ones through all stages of cancer treatment.