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Chemotherapy as Cancer Treatment - Fear of Side Effects

Updated on September 19, 2015

Chemotherapy is the mainstay of cancer treatments


Chemotherapy for cancer

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment where we use drugs to kill the cancer cells. Cancer cells unlike the normal cells of the body multiply and grow at a faster rate.

Unless we stop the growth of these cells they can spread to the different parts of the body other than its origin and cause a number of difficulties for the patient.

Chemotherapy for cancer; how does it work?

Once injected into the blood or absorbed from intestine, chemotherapeutic drugs target the fast growing tumor cells in the body. It will also target the cancer cells which have dislodged from the origin and travelled to distant parts of the body. But the drugs do not have the capability to differentiate the rapidly dividing normal cells from the rapidly dividing tumour cells. That is how the rapidly dividing normal cells of the body like internal mucosal layer of the mouth and intestines, the hair follicles, the bone marrow where the blood cells are produced etc. come under attack. The side effects related to chemotherapy are mainly because of this. The side effects reduce or completely disappear once the chemotherapy is over.

Chemotherapy for cancer; how do I get familiarised with the procedure?

For a person with no background in health care the word “chemotherapy and cancer” it can be very upsetting. Doctors and nurses in cancer hospitals are specially trained and experienced in this area.

A decision on the chemotherapy is taken after reviewing your medical history, findings of physical examination, lab reports revealing the site, type and extent of cancer, your general physical health the current research and whether you had chemotherapy before. Before starting the therapy, your treating doctors and nurses should prepare you on the following areas

  • Why have they chosen chemotherapy as a treatment for your disease?
  • What types of drugs will be administered?
  • How many times are these administered?
  • What is the interval between each cycle of chemotherapy?
  • What kind of side effects to be expected for the drugs used?
  • How to prepare yourself to face these side effects?
  • What to do if certain side effects develop?
  • What is the cost of chemotherapeutic drugs?

Chemotherapy for cancer; when do we use chemotherapy in cancer?

Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer on three different occasions

Curing cancer: Some cancers are completely cured by the use of chemotherapeutic drugs and they do not recur once the treatment is stopped

Controlling cancer: Sometimes, even before detecting the disease, the cancer cells get dislodged from the site of origin and travel to distant areas of the body. They are called micro metastases and they are capable of forming a new cancer growth where they get attached. Chemotherapeutic drugs prevent such spread, slow the growth of the tumor or kill the cancer cells that have already spread to different parts of the body.

Palliative care in advanced cancer: cancer chemotherapy is also used to shrink the tumors that cause pressure or pain.

Chemotherapy for cancer; how is it used?

Neo – adjuvant chemotherapy: here chemotherapy is used to shrink a tumor before surgery or radiation therapy

Adjuvant chemotherapy: here chemotherapy is used to kill the cancer cells that may remain after surgery or radiation therapy

Concomitant or concurrent chemotherapy: This is when chemotherapy is used along with other forms of therapy like radiation.

Chemotherapy for cancer; how often is it given?

It is not always a must that you have to be admitted to a hospital for the administration of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is given in the day care centres, outpatient units of the hospital or during a hospital stay.

The treatment cycles of chemotherapy depends on the type of cancer, whether it has spread to other parts of the body, the purpose of chemotherapy (for curing cancer, for controlling cancer or for palliation), and the body’s reaction to the chemotherapeutic drugs. Chemotherapy for cancer is usually given as cycles. For example, if treatment is given for one week, a gap of three weeks is given before the next treatment. This helps in recuperation of body from all the side effects before the next dose. These four weeks together it is known as a cycle. If four such cycles are planned for a particular patient, the schedule is usually followed unless the patient develops some severe side effects in which case the treatment may be rescheduled.

Chemotherapy for cancer; how is it administered?

The usual form of administration of chemotherapy is through the veins. It can also be administered to a muscle or right under the skin. Other routes of administration of cancer chemotherapy are directly into the artery, into the peritoneal cavity, rubbing on the skin and as pills and capsules orally.

Chemotherapy for cancer; how is it given through an IV?

Chemotherapy is often given through needles inserted into the vein of your hand or lower arm. These needles are not placed on the same side hand in a patient who has undergone removal of breast for the fear of development of lymphedema. If you develop pain, redness and burning near needle site it may indicate that the needle has come out of the vein and it should be informed to the nurse immediately.

Since chemotherapy has to be given on repeated sittings, a catheter (tube) may be placed inside the patient’s body to avoid repeated pricking by the needles. Mostly the catheter is placed in the chest region; one end of the catheter in a large vein and the other end outside the body. These catheters are used to give other medications and to draw the blood if required. One of the dangers in having a catheter like this is the risk of getting infection especially when chemotherapeutic drugs are notorious for lowering the immunity of the person.

Another way of giving chemotherapy is to use a small round disc made of plastic or metal which is placed under the skin. This is called a port and is most often placed in the chest. A needle can be inserted into the port to give chemotherapy or to draw blood. This needle can be left in place for one or two days to avoid repeated pricking. Again infection can be a villain here.

Chemotherapy for cancer; what are the side effects?

There are different side effects for chemotherapy. The side effects can be long term or short term. Anaemia, fatigue, bleeding, alopecia, infection and loss of appetite etc are some of the side effects. The development of side effects or not developing side effects does not mean that your therapy is ineffective.

Would you do chemotherapy for cancer or choose a natural approach?

Chemotherapy is one of the mainstay treatments for cancer. The fear of development of side effects and the cost of getting chemotherapy should not prevent you from seeking treatment if you have cancer. Studies have proved that chemotherapy can extend the number of years of life in people diagnosed with different types of cancer. Different combinations of drugs are used for different types of cancers and many clinical trials are going on in this area to improve the outcome, increase the patient tolerance, reduce the side effects etc. During chemotherapy, a patient is continuously monitored and if needed the treatment is rescheduled to maximise the good effects and to minimise the side effects. Moreover a person receiving chemotherapy is never left alone. There will be a team of specialist doctors, nurses, social workers, other health care members and even old patients to help them come out of the suffering. With good nutrition the patient recovers better from the side effects and the compliance is more. But scientific studies do not prove that nutrition alone or other natural remedies can treat cancer


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    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      5 years ago from India

      Hi Benjamin Chege

      Thanks for the visit.

      I am glad that you liked this hub. Opting for chemotherapy or radiotherapy is not always patients'choice. Treatment for cancer is based on certain standard protocols and considering the age of the patient, stage of the disease and presence of co morbidities etc.

    • profile image

      Benjamin Chege 

      5 years ago

      Hi thumbi7. Well presented hub. Voted up and awesome. I know chemotherapy works and have read a lot of information about it from your hub. I have no idea if natural cures work for cancer. However, with the side effects chemotherapy has, if I had a choice I would choose radiotherapy. I hear it is easier to handle in terms of side effects, but more expensive.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi lindacee

      Thanks for the visit

    • lindacee profile image

      Linda Chechar 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      That's a tough decision, because one never knows until faced with the diagnosis. I would probably go the traditional route and choose chemo. Maybe a combination of chemical and natural treatment would be effective. Thank you for the informative Hub.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi Peggy W,

      Thanks for sharing your insight on this topic.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I have known several people who have undergone chemotherapy and radiation for treatment of cancer. Some have recovered completely and others, sadly, have lost the battle. Hopefully a cancer cure will be found someday so that people do not have to suffer so much with this disease. Up votes!

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi rajan jolly

      Thank you very much for the visit, comment and the link

      I really appreciate it

      Giving a link is a lovely gesture. I truly thank you for that.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Hi thumbi,

      This is an excellent hub with very useful and sensible info which everyone should be aware of. Great research and good work done here.

      Voted up, useful and sharing for it to reach further.

      I'm also including a link to this hub in my hub on cancer. Thanks for this article. Be blessed.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi TeachableMoments,

      Thanks for validating this hub.

    • TeachableMoments profile image


      6 years ago from California

      Great hub with a ton of useful information. My father is a cancer survivor and went through chemotherapy. It was a tough ride and I know at times he wanted to give up, but he remained strong. I am grateful for his chemotherapy and I know it saved his life. I can only imagine how medicine will continue to improve, helping so many others along the way. Voted up.

    • Sandy Frost profile image

      Sandy Frost 

      6 years ago from India

      Very nice hub. I became familiar with this way of treatment when one of my uncle coped up with five chemotherapeutic modules on monthly basis as this was the only procedure remained for elimination of cancer in his abdominal cavities. He bore a lot of pain and trouble during treatment but finally, he succeeded and doctors declared him fit. It only became possible with the help of chemotherapy and it's applications.

      Well, thanks for sharing this great hub on such an effective, hopeful and life-giving treatment. Voted up.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Dear Pamela,

      Sorry for the late reply. In the closing sentence what I actually meant is that cancer should be treated with scientifically proven therapies. Nutrition and other natural remedies can only be used as supportive treatments.

      Thanks for the visit:)

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Dapples 

      6 years ago from Just Arizona Now

      I enjoyed reading this and I always enjoy reading your hubs, thumbi7. But I found in this case your closing sentence was very weak. I hope perhaps you might do some research and see if you find any scientific evidence to prove yay or nay for either argument. I definitely found the comment by your reader GoodLady to be interesting and heartfelt. I also fuond smzclark's conviction to be striking and I might try to find the book he mentioned.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi clark,

      Thanks for that input:)

    • smzclark profile image


      6 years ago from cheshire

      Hey again! Well; there's a whole lot of information and articles done by him online that you can read without having to purchase the book. But if you wanted to read his book, that is titled 'cancer free' (by Bill Henderson)

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hello smzclark,

      I am still not convinced that chemo killed many people.

      I do agree that there are sideeffects and I am planning to write a hub on the side effects of chemo and how to manage them.

      I have not yet read the book you mentioned. May be I should get one and read.

      Thanks for the visit.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi Melis Ann,

      I am glad that you liked the hub.

      Thanks for the visit

    • smzclark profile image


      6 years ago from cheshire

      A good and informative hub. However, I have to disagree. Chemo has killed just as many people as cancer has throughout the years. A man who puts it better than I could myself is BILL HENDERSON. I think you should read what he has to say. He lost his wife to cancer and has dedicated the rest of his years so far to finding ways to beat cancer (without chemo!). I personally would definately not choose chemotherapy.

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 

      6 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Great topic thumbi7 ~ I'm glad you are providing this resource to people considering natural treatment or chemotherapy for cancer treatment. The more information people have, the better decisions they can make.


    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi Brett. Tesol,

      I pray to God that you never have to chose any of these treatments

      Thanks for the visit

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 

      6 years ago from Asia

      A very informative hub Thumbi. Although I hope I never have to choose, if I did I think that I would go with a combination treatment, trying to improve health naturally, while using the therapy to kill the cells.

      Shared, up and useful.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi Ruchira,

      I pray to God you never have to face this.

      Thanks for the visit

    • Ruchira profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      Thumbing this was an extensive research but it scared me to bits.

      I pray none of us face these horrible chemicals amen.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi Goodlady,

      I am happy to know that you are leading a quality life and even active as a writer after your treatment.

      Compared to olden days the number of cancer survivors are increasing which is a proof that these treatments are effective at least to some types of cancers.

      Words of wisdom from your own experience have added significance to this page.

      May God bless you!

      Thanks for the visit:)

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi tirelesstraveller

      I am happy that you visited this page.

      Thanks for those kind words

      Take care!

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      This is a sensible, factual well written Hub on chemo. As you know I had a 111C cancer of the endometrium a few years ago which would have killed me by now if I had not had the treatments that I had, which included chemo and RT. My cancer has not returned, though it could, and if it does I would go through it all again because my life is precious to me.

      My illness cost me my savings, but I manage without them. I found a different way to live which I enjoy even more.

      Glad to have sensible talk on the subject. Alternative medicines are wonderful if you have a chance to do things differently and survive, and I used all sorts of alternative meds to help with the side effects and with emotional needs, but if I had not had the operation, the chemo and the RT I would not be here.

      Nutrition is incredibly important and it is best to get a Nutritionist recommended by your oncologist. It's hard to eat when you are on the treatments but again, it saves your life and makes your body well.

      Thanks for your good Hub. Voting up.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      6 years ago from California

      Excellent article. The detail is very good. I am linking it to my cancer series. Nice work.

    • thumbi7 profile imageAUTHOR

      JR Krishna 

      6 years ago from India

      Hi Cloverleaffarm,

      The effect of chemo or any other mode of treatment depends on the type of cancer, stage of cancer, whether it has spread to the different parts of the body and the general health of the client.

      It is possible that while undergoing chemotherapy a patient may die. But I am not sure whether we can completely blame chemotherapy for this death.

      Many factors may play there

      Thanks for the visit

    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 

      6 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      Thanks for answering my question. One thing I would like to point out is that as the chemo is killing the cancer cells, it is also killing healthy cells. If your body is not in a fit state to handle this, the chemo will most likely kill you.

      Also, you are right, good nutrition is VERY important, and most doctors don't know enough about nutrition, and don't always send you to someone who does. I've seen many people die due to chemo, because their bodies were to sick to fight.

      Again, you are so right. Chemo is very expensive, and while I do realize people want to fight for their life, most I have seen using chemo die a horrible death...very poor. Myself, I would take that money and go on a trip with my family.

      Have a blessed day.


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