The most common side-effects of Chemotherapy are fatigue, nausea and hair loss. Chemotherapy is also known to cause dry mouth and mouth ulcers.

Q:What is Chemotherapy?


Dr:Chemotherapy refers to the usage of drugs to treat a disease, but over time it has come to be a term specific to cancer treatment. There are different types of drugs for different types of cancer cells. Each drug as a particular method of administration and schedule.


Q:How does Chemotherapy help treat cancer?


Dr:The drugs used for chemotherapy slow and stop the growth of cancer cells. The drugs recognise cancer cells because they grow and multiply rapidly in comparison to normal cells. However, there are some healthy cells that reproduce quickly as well like the hair cells and the cells that line the digestive tract – chemo drugs attack these cells as well. This is one of the reasons for side effects such as hair loss and low blood count during chemotherapy.


Q:Is curing cancer the only goal of Chemotherapy?


Dr:Cure, is definitely the primary goal of Chemotherapy. If there is a possibility of curing cancer with chemotherapy, then the treatment is given with curative intent. However, it is not always the case and that is why chemotherapy is given in tandem with radiation therapy. Control is another goal of Chemotherapy because the drugs can be used to shrink the tumour or to slow down/ stop the growth of cancer. Chemotherapy can also be used to ease the symptoms of cancer. This usually occurs when cancer has advanced and cannot be controlled. Chemotherapy


Q:How are Chemotherapy drugs administered?


Dr:Most chemo drugs are administered intravenously through a tube – one end is connected to a bag that contains the drug, and the other end is connected to a vein in the patient’s arm. In rare cases, chemo drugs are in the form of a pill or liquid which can be swallowed, and in some cases, the medicine is injected into the body as an intramuscular injection.


Q:Is Chemotherapy painful?


Dr:Since chemo drugs are usually administered via IV drip, most people do not find it painful. The discomfort and pinch felt during inserting the IV needle may continue for a few days, but eventually, the patient overcomes that as well. What is more irksome are the side effects – nausea, hair loss, and fatigue.


Q:What are the main side effects of Chemotherapy and how can I cope with them?


Dr:First of all you must understand that no two patients have the same side effects and even if they do, the intensity varies. Before starting chemotherapy, it is important to discuss with your doctor and understand what possible side effects to expect. The most common side effects are fatigue, nausea and hair loss. Chemotherapy is also known to cause dry mouth and mouth ulcers, which can lead to infections. Hence it is important to maintain good oral hygiene and let your doctor know if you notice these side effects. Your immunity might go down making you more susceptible to infections. Some people experience mood swings, low libido, fertility problems and change in weight. Before starting chemotherapy, it is absolutely imperative to discuss all possible side effects and what precautions need to be taken.


Q:How many chemotherapy sessions will I need?


Dr:The duration of chemotherapy varies from person to person. It depends on the cancer stage and the effectiveness of each session. You will be informed about the next session at the end of each session.


Q:Is there anything I can do to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy?


Dr:The effectiveness of Chemotherapy depends entirely on the type of cancer, what stage it is in and where it is located. There is not much one can do to ensure the treatment works. Some studies state that exercise increases blood flow to the tumour, which increases drug delivery. However, before starting an exercise regimen during chemotherapy, discuss with your doctor about what level of exercise is permissible. Before a session get good rest, drink enough fluids, and remember you might experience nausea so have relevant medication at hand, and stay positive. Read a book, listen to music or meditate during the session to keep calm.


Q:What are the goals of chemotherapy administration?


Dr:Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, chemotherapy may be used to

  • Cure the cancer
  • Increase the effect of radiation therapy (Concurrent)
  • Prevent the cancer from coming back (Adjuvant)
  • To reduce the size of the cancer to make it suitable for surgery or radiation (Neoadjuvant)
  • To prolong life and reduce symptoms when the cancer cannot be cured. (Palliative)

Dr. Dominic Joseph is a medical oncologist
Reviewed By:

Dr.Joseph Dominic