Chemotherapy For Cancer: What it is, how it works, and chemo side effects

Chemotherapy For Cancer: What it is, how it works, and chemo side effects
May 28 13:20 2021 by admin Print This Article

Being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy and various other cancer treatments can be one of the most trying times in a patient’s life. It is upsetting, but knowing what the treatment involves and what they can expect can make patients feel better.

  • Cancer cells multiply rapidly.
  • Chemotherapy drugs are potent and can kill these rapidly growing cancer cells.
  • Unfortunately, in the process, some normal cells are also affected.
  • This is what causes the side effects experienced during chemotherapy.
  • Once the chemotherapy cycle is complete, the normal cells recover while the cancer cells don’t.
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At what stage is chemotherapy given?

This depends on every patient’s unique condition.

  • In certain cases, chemo is given after surgery – to reduce chances of a relapse.
  • In other cases, it can be given prior to surgery – to shrink cancer and make surgery easier.
  • It is also given when cancer returns after treatment and spreads to other parts of the body.

How is Chemotherapy administered? 

This differs from patient to patient, and the doctor will decide on the most suitable option. He/she will also explain the whole process in detail and what to expect.

  • Chemo can be given either in the form of tablets or it can be administered as an IV.
  • It can either be a single drug or a combination of many.
  • In some cases, chemotherapy and radiotherapy will be given together.
  • Hospitalization of 1 -2 days may be necessary. Usually, though, the patient can go home once chemo is given.
  • A nurse trained in administering chemo will carry out the procedure.
  • Before every chemo cycle, a consult with the doctor will be scheduled to analyze the side effects and the success of the treatment.

It is natural that patients feel overwhelmed. It might be helpful to note down all questions and doubts before meeting the doctor so that nothing is missed out on. The doctor should also be made aware of any other medication the patient might be on. If pregnancy is suspected, it is of extreme importance that the doctor is informed of this.

Chemotherapy duration 

  • If in the form of tablets, the patient will have to take the pills as told by the doctor over a period of days.
  • Other forms of medication might be given on a weekly basis.
  • More commonly, a 3- or 4-week cycle of chemo is administered.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

More often than not, some kind of side effects is encountered. Some patients will be able to carry on with their daily routine, while others will not. However, at the conclusion of the chemo cycle, the side effects will fade away. Thanks to the availability of newer drugs, any side effects experienced can be controlled.

1. Reduction in Blood Count Value

  • White blood cells help the body fight infections.
  • A drop in them will make the body weaker and more susceptible to new infections.
  • The doctor will probably put the patient on a course of antibiotics if he suspects infection.
  • Patients, too, should not delay treatment if they experience high fever, coughs, and sweating episodes.
  • A reduction in red blood cells will manifest as fatigue.
  • The patient might become anemic, requiring a blood transfusion.
  • A fall in the platelet count means the body’s clotting mechanism is affected.
  • The patient might have nose bleeds.
  • All the aforementioned symptoms warrant a consult with the doctor.

2. Vomiting: This is a commonly encountered side effect; the medication can be given to tackling it.

3. Ulcers: Ulcers can develop in the mouth or tongue and can cause pain. It is important to maintain oral hygiene and stick to soft foods along with a lot of fluids.

4. Hair loss: A truly unfortunate side effect that can be depressing to patients, they can take heart from the fact that hair does grow back after the chemo cycle is complete.

5. Constipation/Diarrhoea: Patients can try drinking lots of water to prevent constipation. Medicines also help with constipation and diarrhea. Do not self-treat; ask your doctor for the proper medication.

6. Fatigue: A feeling of tiredness/fatigue is expected so the patients can plan ahead for it. Enlist your family and friends help to get you through it.

7. Infertility issues: Chemotherapy can affect a person’s reproductive ability. It is best to talk to the doctor about it and learn possible options. It is recommended that the patient, along with his/her partner together talk to the doctor. It is best to avoid pregnancy while undergoing chemotherapy.

8. Skin irritation: When chemotherapy drugs are administered intravenously, the point of injection might develop itchiness or some other irritation. It is best to consult the doctor when this happens.

9. Weight loss: Patients undergoing chemotherapy might exhibit a lack of appetite and as a result may lose weight. Patients can try eating small meals that are rich in protein; full-fat products like curd and milk are also recommended to prevent drastic weight reduction. A dietician can help with food options.


  • The side effects will gradually wear off.
  • Patients are encouraged to take it easy – sufficient rest and nutritious food will help immensely.
  • Follow-up visits with the doctor will be scheduled to monitor progress and clear any doubts.

Emotional well-being 

  • Patients should be encouraged to ask for help.
  • Feeling anxious and depressed is expected.
  • It is indeed a difficult time for patients, but meditation and music might help them relax.
  • Exercising will be a good morale booster but make sure the patient consumes enough fluids.
  • Mood swings are expected. Talking about it to friends and family might help. If needed, the doctor can also help arrange professional counseling sessions for patients.
  • Loved ones should keep an eye on patients and get them professional help if needed.
  • A positive attitude and a belief that things will get better are


Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Hosur, Salem and Bengaluru, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.

Chennai – 044 4000 6000 • Trichy – Cantonment – 0431 4077777 • Trichy – Heartcity – 0431 4003500 • Trichy – Tennur – 0431 4022555 • Hosur – 04344 272727 • Salem – 0427 2677777 • Bengaluru – 080 6801 6801

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1 Comment

  1. Diana
    June 04, 05:31 #1 Diana

    Thanks for focusing on the emotional well-being part too regarding chemotherapy for cancer. This is a major aspect.

    Reply to this comment

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