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Chemotherapy

Definition

The use of drugs to kill cancer cells.

Parts of the Body Involved

This depends on how the chemotherapy is given.

Reasons for Procedure

To treat cancer.

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure

  • History of allergies
  • Debilitation

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

You may be asked to take some pre-medications, such as steroids, allergy medications (anti-histamines), anti-nausea medications, sedatives, and antibiotics.

During Procedure

You'll be given the chemotherapy medication(s) by whichever route your physician thinks best. At the same time, you may be given other medications to fight the side effects of chemotherapy, including steroids, allergy medications (anti-histamines), anti-nausea medications, sedatives, and antibiotics.

Chemotherapy Through Cardiovascular System

Chemotherapy

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Anesthesia

Anesthesia is not used.

Description of the Procedure

Chemotherapy drugs may be given in several ways:

  • By mouth
  • By injection into a muscle or vein (intravenously)
  • By catheter into the bladder, abdomen, chest cavity, brain, spinal cord, or liver
  • By application to the skin

After Procedure

You may be given any of the following:

  • Medications to take at home to make you more comfortable, such as anti-nausea drugs
  • Injections of an immune-system boosting drug (to increase your white blood cells and fight potential infections) several days after your chemotherapy has been administered
  • Other drugs, including steroids, allergy medications (anti-histamines), anti-nausea medications, sedatives, and antibiotics

How Long Will It Take?

This depends on the route used, the number of medications prescribed, and the amount of each medication. Therefore, a session may be as brief as the time it takes to swallow a pill, or it may take several hours, overnight, or even an entire week for intravenous medications to be dripped slowly into your veins.

Will It Hurt?

Chemotherapy may cause a number of uncomfortable side effects and complications. However, the administration of the chemotherapy treatment does not usually hurt, unless the intravenous needle is misplaced and medication leaks into your tissue. If this happens, tell your doctor or nurse, so that the problem can be corrected and damage to your skin and tissue can be avoided.

Possible Complications

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Appetite loss
  • Hair loss
  • Anemia
  • Weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to infection
  • Intense fatigue
  • Decreased platelet count and easy bruising and/or bleeding
  • Mouth sores
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness due to nerve damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Damage to the heart muscle
  • Infertility
  • Cessation of the menstrual period

Average Hospital Stay

Chemotherapy is typically performed as an outpatient procedure. However, if you experience excessive vomiting, you may need to be admitted to the hospital to receive IV fluids with your chemotherapy treatments.

Postoperative Care

  • Get a lot of sleep.
  • Try to eat as healthfully as possible, even though you may not have an appetite.
  • Drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration and to flush the medications out of your kidneys as quickly as possible.
  • Use special mouth rinses to avoid or treat mouth sores.
  • Administer post-chemotherapy shots if they are prescribed by your doctor; these will help to keep your white blood count stable.
  • Try to avoid people with communicable diseases (particularly children) as a viral illness (ie, cold or flu) can have significant effects in a patient whose immune system is compromised by the chemotherapy,

Outcome

Chemotherapy should help decrease the number of cancer cells and shrink tumors.

Your doctor may order any of the following tests to monitor the progress of your treatment:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound—a test that uses sound waves to find tumors
  • MRI scan—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of the inside of the body
  • CT scan—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of the inside of the body
  • Bone scans—a type of x-ray that shows areas of unusual activity
  • Bone marrow biopsies—the removal of a sample of bone marrow for examination

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • Sores in your mouth or lip blisters
  • White patches in your mouth
  • Difficulty/pain with swallowing
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Vomiting that prevents you from holding down fluids
  • Blood in your vomit
  • Easy bruising
  • Nosebleeds, bleeding gums, new vaginal bleeding
  • Blood in your urine or stool
  • Burning or frequency of urination
  • Chest pain
  • Severe weakness
  • Shortness of breath, cough
  • Calf pain, swelling, or redness in the legs or feet (which could signify a blood clot)
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge, itching, or odor
  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Pain in a new location
  • Numbness, tingling, or pain in your extremities
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or a "pimple" at the site of your IV
  • Headache, stiff neck
  • Hearing or vision changes
  • Exposure to someone with an infectious illness, including chickenpox
  • FEVER: The single most important symptom that causes a medical oncologist to admit a patient to the hospital after getting chemotherapy is a fever in the presence of a low white blood cell count, called a neutropenic fever.

RESOURCES:

American Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.org

National Cancer Institute
http://www.cancer.gov

Nemours Foundation
http://www.nemours.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Cancer Care Ontario
http://www.cancercare.on.ca/

Canadian Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.ca

References:

Clinical Oncology . 2nd ed. Churchill Livingstone; 2000.

National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/ .

National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://www.nih.gov/ .



Last reviewed March 2008 by Igor Puzanov, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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