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Your medical oncologist (a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with drugs) will create a personalized treatment plan for you based on national guidelines and his or her expertise and experience. Many different chemotherapy drugs are available and are designed to treat specific cancers. Not all chemotherapy (or “chemo”) is the same, nor is one chemotherapy used to treat all cancers. Depending on the drug(s) your doctor prescribes, you may receive your chemo through an IV (intravenous), in pill form, injectables or a combination. Chemo may be used alone or with other treatments such as radiation therapy or surgery.
Chemotherapy is considered a systemic treatment because the drug travels throughout the body and kills fast growing and dividing cells. It is used to kill cancer cells, relieve pain associated with the tumor or to slow growth of the tumor and extend your life. Many advances have been made in chemotherapy drugs that result in better cure rates and fewer side effects. Some side effects are mild and manageable; others can cause serious complications. Your oncology specialists will explain the risks and benefits of your specific chemotherapy and take every measure to support you through your treatment.
Factors our cancer care team considers when recommending treatment options include:
- The type and subtype of cancer
- The stage of the cancer (how far it has spread)
- Results of other tests on the tumor, such as biomarkers, molecular profiling and genetic testing
- The patient’s age
- The patient’s overall health and current medications
- Other serious health problems (such as heart, liver, or kidney diseases)
- Types of cancer treatments given in the past