Chemotherapy are powerful drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs can be administered in several ways including:

  • Injections
  • Intravenously (IV into the veins)
  • Pills
  • Injections into the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord or brain.

Unlike surgery, which targets a specific area of the body, chemotherapy is considered a systemic treatment because the medicine travels into the entire body. Depending on your situation, chemotherapy can be used for:

  • Eliminating cancer: primary, or even the sole, treatment for cancer.
  • Supporting other treatments: shrink a tumor before radiation or surgery or after other treatments to kill any remaining cancer cells.
  • Minimizing cancer: keep cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.
  • Palliative treatment: relieve symptoms of cancer when the cancer is too advanced to be cured.

As with any treatment, you and your doctor will discuss the best course of action for you, where you will receive chemotherapy, and for how long. You should also know that MedStar Health is staffed with certified chemotherapy nurses and volunteers who can explain many of the parts of chemotherapy treatment.

Side effects

Chemotherapy drugs kill the harmful cancer cells, but they also damage the healthy cells. Chemotherapy drugs target cells that divide quickly, a characteristic typical of most cancer cells but also typical of cells found in blood, hair, and the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, which can cause side effects such as:

  • Anemia 
  • Dry mouth, mouth sores, or swelling in mouth
  • Hair loss
  • Higher risk of infection
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Pain from nerve damage
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea

Most of these side effects disappear with time. Remember that the side effects that you experience depend on the type of cancer, the type of drugs used, and your unique health and other circumstances. Managing your side effects is a top priority at MedStar Health. Your healthcare team will discuss with you how you can manage side effects to maintain a high quality of life.

Tips to prevent weight loss

When starting chemotherapy, it is important to prevent weight loss and muscle wasting. Weight loss and inadequate dietary intake can lead to a decrease in your daily activities, increase fatigue and strain with simple tasks. Below are some ways to prevent weight loss during chemotherapy: 

  • Eat a lot of protein: Proteins are important to help build your cells and maintain your strength and energy. Make sure to have a protein-rich food at each meal. Your protein can come from meats, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, cheeses, dairy products, soy foods, legumes, and beans.  
  • Consume calories: Eating enough calories is important to fuel your body to prevent weight loss. If your appetite is low, try eating small frequent meals. Have a snack every hour and include higher calorie or higher fat foods to get extra energy. 
  • Stay hydrated: It is important to get plenty of water during treatment, especially if you aren’t eating very well, or if you are having difficulties with side effects like vomiting or diarrhea. Try to drink at least six to eight cups per day.

Outpatient chemotherapy

Sometimes, instead of needing to be hospitalized for cancer treatment (known as inpatient treatment), you are able to come to the hospital, receive your treatment, and leave that same day. This is called outpatient treatment.

Outpatient treatment takes place in our infusion centers, which are cancer treatment facilities located in a community environment. Each time you arrive, our nurses will weigh and measure you—your dose of medication is based on your weight and height. Our pharmacists prepare your dose carefully, and our chemotherapy-certified nurses administer the dosage. The staff will monitor you closely during treatment because your immune system is especially sensitive during this time.

MedStar Health outpatient chemotherapy centers provide:

  • Multidisciplinary teams of oncologists
  • Consultations and second opinions
  • Cancer treatments focused on individual needs
  • Outstanding clinical trials program
  • Patient- and family-support services
  • Cancer support groups
  • Compassionate, oncology certified nursing teams
  • Convenient locations with easy access and parking
  • Flexible scheduling
  • Private and relaxing environment

Please note: Not every patient can receive outpatient treatment at an infusion center. Depending on the type of chemotherapy you need, your doctor may recommend other alternatives.

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