Patients & Families
Patients and Families

Chemotherapy, also called chemo, uses one or more drugs to kill cancer cells.

Each cell in our body works in a special way to keep us healthy. Cancer forms when a group of abnormal cells grow and spread out of control. They affect the way your body normally works.

Chemo is given for a set period of time--a three-week cycle for instance--by mouth, by needle into a muscle or skin, or by needle into a vein. The drugs travel through the bloodstream to the cancer cells.

Chemotherapy may:
• cure the cancer
• reduce the risk of cancer coming back
• control the cancer for awhile
• help cope with or resolve cancer symptoms like pain

Side effects
Chemotherapy drugs are designed to kill cancer cells, but they can also damage healthy cells such as hair and blood cells. Side effects vary depending on the type of drugs given and how the cancer is affecting your body. Most side effects go away after treatment ends.

Common side effects of chemotherapy are:
feeling very tired
• losing your hair
• low blood cell levels, such as anemia or neutropenia
• low platelets
• nausea
• vomiting
• sore mouth or sore throat
• not feeling hungry or feeling very hungry
• changes in how you feel about sex
• changes in your menstrual cycle
• constipation
• diarrhea
• feeling numb or tingling in your hands or feet
• pain

It is important to discuss any side effects that you experience with your health care team.

NS Cancer System

View Cancer Care Nova Scotia's Living Well with Cancer informational pamphlets about Chemotherapy

View the Canadian Cancer Society's information about Chemotherapy

View Cancer Care Nova Scotia's list of Recommended Websites.

View the Canadian Cancer Society's Glossary to help you understand cancer-related words and phrases.