What is chemotherapy?


What is chemotherapy at home?

Chemotherapy is treatment with medicines that destroy cancer cells. It's often called chemo. The medicines you take at home work just as well as the ones that are given in the hospital or clinic.

For these medicines to help you the most, you need to take them safely and correctly. The medicines you take at home can have the same side effects as the chemo that's given in the hospital or clinic. Always handle them with care. Follow your doctor's instructions about taking them and storing them.

You'll meet with your doctor or nurse often during your treatment. They will answer your questions about your medicines. You'll learn which ones you're taking and what they'll do for you. You'll also get instructions on how to take the medicines.


Chemotherapy is the use of medicine to destroy cancer cells.

Chemotherapy medicines are often put into a vein (I.V.) or taken by mouth as pills or a liquid (oral). This sends the medicine to cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy may also be delivered in several other ways. For example, it may be injected into a muscle or put in a cream that is rubbed on the skin.

Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cells. This includes cancer cells but also some normal cells. This can cause side effects, such as nausea and vomiting. Some side effects go away after treatment is finished. Other side effects may be lasting.

In what ways can chemotherapy be given?

Chemo may be given in different ways. For example, chemo may be put into the bloodstream, put directly into an organ, or swallowed as a pill.

Chemo that goes into the bloodstream

Chemo can be given directly into a vein through an I.V. (intravenous) tube called a catheter. It's usually put in your hand or lower arm. It allows the chemo medicines to go into your bloodstream and kill cancer cells throughout your body.

A vascular access device (VAD) is a thin tube used to give chemo medicines into a large vein. A port-a-cath, or port, is a type of VAD that allows easy access in the chest. It is a small, round disc that usually goes under the skin on your chest.

A port allows you to take several medicines at one time. And it makes it easier to get repeated chemo treatments over time. It also allows for chemo treatments to be given with fewer needle sticks in the skin.

A small pump is sometimes attached to a port. This controls how much medicine is given and how fast it goes in.

Most ports stay in place until the chemo treatments are finished.

Chemo may also be given as a shot (injection) in a muscle or under the skin. You may get the shot in your arm, leg, or belly.

Chemo that you swallow

Some chemo medicines may be taken in pills, capsules, or liquids that you swallow (oral). Only certain kinds of chemo drugs are available in this form. Sometimes this type of chemo can be taken at home.

Chemo given in a specific part of the body

Doctors may give doses of chemo in a certain organ or part of the body. This allows the medicines to go straight to where the cancer is. This method also may cause fewer side effects.

The medicines may be put directly into:

  • An artery that leads to an organ, such as the liver, or a part of your body where the cancer is.
  • The fluid around the brain and spinal cord.
  • An organ through a passage from outside of your body. For example, chemo can be put in the bladder through the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder.
  • An area that contains the cancer. For example, cancer of the liver or cancer of the abdominal lining may be treated by putting chemo into the abdominal cavity.
  • A tumor. A shot may be used for tumors under the skin.

Chemo that goes onto the skin

Chemo medicines may be mixed into a cream that you rub on your skin. This may be done to treat skin cancer. This treatment may be done at home.

How can you care for your infant or child who is having chemotherapy?

  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with his or her medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes. Your child may get medicine for nausea and vomiting if he or she has these side effects.
  • Go to all doctor visits so that the doctor can check your child for problems.
  • Become a partner in your child's care. Make sure you give accurate information about your child's medical history. Take notes when you talk to your child's doctor, so you know what to do at home. Ask your doctor for information about the chemotherapy medicines and their possible side effects.
  • Ask your doctor whether your child should get the normal vaccines against childhood diseases during chemotherapy.
  • Use language your child can understand to explain what is happening. For infants and babies, hold and comfort them often to help them feel safe and loved.
  • Teenagers may be upset about side effects that change their looks, such as losing hair. Be sensitive to your child's worries.
  • Offer your child choices when possible. If your child has lost hair, let him or her decide whether to wear a wig, a hat, or nothing. This can help your child feel more in control.
  • Let your child talk about how he or she feels. Children may feel better if they can meet others in the same situation. Think about letting your child go to a camp for children with cancer.
  • Try to help your child have some fun every day.
  • Talk to your other children about what is happening to their brother or sister. Let them talk about how they are feeling or cry if they feel like they need to.

How can you use chemotherapy safely at home?

Chemo medicines can stay in your body fluids (vomit, urine, or stool) for several days. These medicines contain strong chemicals, so they can be harmful if someone touches waste from your body.

If you take chemo at home, any of your clothes or bed linens or cloth diapers that have medicine or body fluids on them need to be handled separately from other laundry. Have caregivers use gloves when they wash your bed linens and clothes. Bed linens and cloth diapers should be machine washed twice in hot water, using regular detergent. Keep the medicine out of the reach of children.

When using the bathroom during the first 48 hours after each treatment:

  • Sit on the toilet seat to prevent splashing.
  • Put the toilet lid down before you flush.
  • Always flush twice after you use the toilet.

Couples should use a condom during sex while a partner is getting chemo treatments and for several days after treatment ends.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses medicines to kill cancer cells. It's often called "chemo." Chemo may slow cancer growth, stop cancer from spreading, or help get rid of the cancer.

Chemo can be given at different locations, such as a hospital, a doctor's office, or a clinic. Sometimes chemo treatments may be done at home.

You may get chemo in "cycles." This means that you get a number of treatments over a set period of time. Then you take a break before you start again.

Chemo helps to treat many kinds of cancer. But it can also affect healthy cells along with the cancer cells. This is why some types of chemo cause side effects, like nausea, losing your hair, or feeling tired.

What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

Side effects depend on which medicines you take, how much you take, and how the medicines affect you. Your doctor can tell you what to expect when you take these medicines. Some of them may cause symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • A rash.
  • Hair loss.
  • Pain or tingling in your hands or the soles of your feet.

Chemo treatment can be hard. It can keep you from doing the things you were doing every day, like going to work or school. But keep in mind that most side effects don't last. They will go away after you finish the treatment.

And many side effects can be managed with medicine. Your doctor will tell you what to do if you have side effects. You'll also learn which ones you need to tell your doctor about right away.

How can you plan for chemotherapy?

Chemo can be given at different locations, such as a hospital, a doctor's office, or a clinic. Sometimes chemo treatments may be done at home.

If you are going to have chemo, plan ahead for what you'll do during your sessions. Do you like to listen to music? If so, bring your favorite music on a personal music player along with headphones or earbuds. Listening to music will help you relax and pass the time. Or you may want to read, watch a movie, or bring a game to play. Choose something you enjoy.

You may get chemo in "cycles." This means that you get treatments for a set period of time. Then you take a break before you start again.

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