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What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a general term for treatments that use chemical agents (drugs) to kill cancer cells. Many different kinds of drugs are used, either alone or in combination, to treat different cancers. The specific drug or combination used is chosen to best combat the type and extent of cancer present. It may be used along with surgery or radiation therapy to shrink a tumor or prevent its spread.

How does Chemotherapy work?

Healthy normal cells in the body grow and divide in an orderly manner to replace old or damaged cells. Cancer cells have lost that capacity and divide out of control. Chemotherapy drugs work by interfering with the ability of cancer cells to divide and reproduce themselves. Chemotherapy can be delivered by the bloodstream to reach cancer cells all over the body, or it can be administered directly to specific cancer sites. Treatment is administered in cycles. After treatment, time is set aside for the body to build healthy cells before the next cycle begins.

The Goals of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can reduce the number of cancer cells. As a result, it may:

• Cure cancer

• Cause remission (no active symptoms of disease)

• Kill any cancer cells remaining after surgery

• Control cancer for a period of time

• Reduce symptoms (such as pain)

Risks and Complications

There are some risks with chemotherapy, but the benefits usually outweigh the risks. Side effects occur because chemotherapy acts on normal cells, too. Fast-growing cells are most affected. This includes cells that make up hair, the digestive tract, and blood. The following are possible long-term side effects of some types of chemotherapy:

• Infertility

• Organ damage (heart, kidneys, liver, lungs)

• Lasting nerve damage

• Another cancer, which may occur at a later time

Common Questions:

1. Will I Still Be Able to Work?

Many people do still work during chemotherapy. If you find you have less energy, you may need to talk with your employer about adjusting your schedule.

• Work at home or reduce the number of hours you work.

• Plan time off that fits best with your treatment cycle.

2. Should I Exercise?

Ask your doctor about starting an exercise program. It may help you sleep better and sometimes even help control nausea. It is also good for your sense of well-being.

• Exercise when you feel most energetic.

• Keep the pace moderate. Even small amounts of exercise can help. Instead of jogging, walk or ride a stationary bike.

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