What It Is

Chemotherapy, often called chemo, uses one or more drugs to kill cancer cells. Cancer cells often grow quickly. Chemotherapy slows this by blocking a cell's ability to split and reproduce.

These drugs are sometimes called cytotoxic because they kill certain types of cells.

Chemotherapy works better on some tumors than on others. It is more useful when tumors are found and treated early.

There are no chemotherapy drugs that target only cancer. This means chemotherapy sometimes affects other types of fast-growing cells in the body. These cells include hair and the lining inside of the intestines.

Chemotherapy can be used to kill cancer cells that have spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body. It can be used along with radiation therapy and surgery.

What to Expect

Most of the time, these drugs come in two forms:

  • Intravenous (IV)
  • Pill

The doctor must find out the amount and type of drug that works best for each patient. It can take one or more treatments to find the right balance. If too little of the drug is given, the tumor might not shrink. If too much is given, the drugs may be too hard on the patient’s body. A personal plan will find the correct amount and type of drug that works best for each patient.

For some patients, different tools are used to deliver the drugs. These include pumps and other options. These methods make it easier to give the drug without repeated needle sticks. These tools can be used when chemotherapy is needed:

  • Continuously
  • Often
  • For long periods at a time

Chemotherapy is usually given for six to 12 months. Chemotherapy includes periods of treatment and periods of rest when blood counts are allowed to return to normal.

Possible Side Effects

Side effects of chemotherapy can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Malnutrition
  • Hair loss
  • Bleeding or damage to the heart, liver or kidneys

Chemotherapy can weaken the body's immune system. This can make a person more likely to get sick. Improvements in chemotherapy include new drugs that cause fewer side effects. Other drugs can help control side effects.

While some chemotherapy regimens are well tolerated, others are not. As a result, some patients will need more support:

  • Nauseous patients might need fluids.
  • Patients whose blood counts drop after treatment and who develop a fever might need to receive antibiotics and care at home, instead of staying in the hospital.
  • Patients who need blood products after chemotherapy to treat anemia (low red blood count) or to avoid a hemorrhage can receive the therapy in the hospital or in the outpatient setting.

General Information

Where the cancer started can affect how it is treated. Different drugs can be used based on if the cancer started in the breast, the lung or somewhere else in the body.

Cancer can cause many symptoms based on where it spreads. For example, you can get a headache if cancer spreads from the breast to the brain. It is important to find out where the cancer started. This will allow the patient to see the right doctor for a consultation.

Samuel Oschin Cancer Center Infusion Center

The Samuel Oschin Cancer Center's outpatient infusion center offers chemotherapy and supportive services. Flooded with sunshine and filled with trees and plants — even aquariums — the infusion center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and offers 18 private rooms for treatment sessions six hours or longer.

  • We find a time that works for you.
  • Care for patients' urgent or unexpected needs.
  • Oncology nurses are always reachable by phone.
  • Eighteen private rooms for treatment sessions six hours or longer.
  • Sixteen cozy recliner chairs for shorter sessions.

A Calm Setting

The infusion center was designed more like a hotel than a hospital. Each private treatment room has a bed, private phone, bathroom, TV, VCR and visitor seating. Rooms have curtains and doors to give many levels of privacy.

For those who need shorter sessions, each of our cozy recliner chairs is outfitted with a DVD laptop. We offer many choices of DVDs and CDs for your entertainment.

Affiliated Locations
  • The Angeles Clinic and Research Institute
  • Tower Hematology Oncology Medical Group


Scientists at Cedars-Sinai are researching new chemotherapy drugs that can better target cancer cells. This will protect the body's healthy cells. This research also has the potential of making chemotherapy more useful with fewer unintended results, known as side effects.

Learn about clinical trials in many cancer-related areas.

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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