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Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs are often given into a vein or by mouth. Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they go throughout the body. This treatment is useful for cancer that has spread to other organs.

Chemo is often a part of treatment for Ewing sarcoma and osteosarcoma, but it doesn’t often work well for other types of bone cancers like chordomas and chondrosarcomas. (It can be useful for some special types of chondrosarcoma.) Chemo is sometimes used for bone cancer that has spread through the bloodstream to the lungs and/or other organs.

Before giving chemo, your doctor will check your lab test results to be sure your liver, kidneys, and bone marrow (which makes blood cells) are working well.

Chemo kills cancer cells, but it also damages some normal cells. This can cause side effects. These side effects depend on the type of drugs given, the amount taken, and how long treatment lasts.

Short-term side effects could include the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair loss (the hair grows back after treatment ends)
  • Mouth sores
  • Increased chance of infection (from a shortage of white blood cells)
  • Bleeding or bruising after small cuts or injuries (from a shortage of platelets)
  • Tiredness or shortness of breath (from low red blood cell counts)

Some side effects depend on which drugs are used. Before treatment begins, talk to your cancer care team about what side effects you can expect. Most of them go away once treatment stops. If you have any problems with side effects, be sure to tell your doctor or nurse because there are often ways to help. For instance, certain drugs can help with nausea and vomiting.


Last Medical Review: 12/05/2012
Last Revised: 01/24/2013