Chemotherapy (often called "chemo") is a class of cancer-killing medications that travel through your bloodstream and attack cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs are administered either intravenously or as a pill. Your doctor might recommend chemotherapy after surgery to decrease the chance of your cancer recurring. Chemotherapy is also used when a cancer could spread to other parts of your body. Chemotherapy is given in cycles with a recovery period following each treatment period. The complete chemotherapy treatment usually takes several months.
The side effects of chemotherapy depend on which drugs are used, at what dosages and for how long. Side effects may include:
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased chance of infections (due to low white blood cell counts)
- Easy bruising or bleeding (due to low blood platelet counts)
- Fatigue (due to low red blood cell counts and other reasons).
Side effects are usually short-term and go away once treatment has concluded. If you experience side effects, let your doctor know. Drugs or other therapies can often improve your symptoms. In particular, medications can effectively treat nausea and vomiting.
After chemotherapy concludes, it's very important to go to all of
your scheduled follow-up appointments. Your doctor will ask you
questions about any symptoms or side effects you may be experiencing,
and may do a physical exam or order tests to confirm your remission.
At first, follow-up appointments will probably be scheduled every
three to six months. The longer you have been cancer-free, the less
often appointments are necessary. After five years, appointments are
typically once a year.
It may be important for you to have a yearly pelvic exam following
your treatment for breast cancer. Certain cancer drugs may increase your
risk of uterine cancer, so talk to your doctor about whether yearly
pelvic exams are appropriate for you.
Another type of cancer drug, aromatase inhibitors, may increase your
risk for thinning of the bones (osteoporosis). Your doctor may want to
monitor your bone health and may order a periodic bone mineral density