Patients & Families
Patients and Families
Systemic Therapy
Systemic therapy, also called chemotherapy, 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.
Systemic therapy 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.

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

There are many different drugs used in systemic therapy. See our Systemic Therapy application to learn more about the cancer medications you are taking.

Side effects

Systemic Therapy 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.

Most common side effects of systemic therapy are:
feeling very tired
losing 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 a woman's menstrual period
• constipation
diarrhea
• feeling numb or tingling in your hands or feet
pain