A Guide to Chemotherapy

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These are some words that you may hear your cancer care team use.

Adjuvant (AD-juh-vunt) therapy: Treatment used in addition to main treatment. It usually refers to hormone therapy, chemo, radiation therapy, or other treatments given after surgery to increase the chances of curing the disease or keeping it in check.

Alopecia (AL-o-PEE-shuh): Hair loss, which can be all over the body. It’s often caused by chemo, and hair usually grows back after treatment ends.

Anemia (uh-nee-me-uh): Having too few red blood cells or a low red blood cell count. Symptoms of anemia include feeling tired, weak, and short of breath.

Anti-emetic (an-tee-ih-MEH-tik or an-tie-ih-MEH-tik): A drug that prevents or relieves nausea and vomiting

Benign (be-nine): Non-cancerous, or not cancer

Blood cell count: A count of the number of cells in a given sample of blood. Red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are most often counted for this lab test, also called a complete blood count or CBC.

Bone marrow: The inner, spongy tissue of bones where blood cells are made

Cancer (CAN-sur): A general term for more than 100 diseases in which abnormal cells grow out of control, in most cases forming a lump or a mass. The term is also used to describe uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the blood or lymph system.

Catheter (CATH-it-ur): A thin, flexible tube. Doctors use these to put fluids into your body or as a way for fluids to leave your body.

Central venous catheter (CVC): A special thin, flexible tube placed in a large vein, usually in the chest, neck, or upper arm to allow easier access to the vein. It can remain there for as long as it’s needed to put in and take out fluids. There are many different types of CVCs.

Chemotherapy (KEY-mo-THER-uh-pee): The use of drugs to treat disease. The term most often refers to drugs used to treat cancer. It’s often called chemo.

Chromosomes (KROM-uh-SOMS): Thread-like strands that carry genetic information. They are found in the nucleus, or center part, of a cell. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, one member of each pair from the mother, the other from the father. Each chromosome can contain hundreds or thousands of individual genes.

Clinical trials: Medical research studies done in patient volunteers. Each study is designed to answer scientific questions and find better ways to detect, prevent, or treat cancer and/or its side effects.

Combination chemotherapy: The use of more than one chemo drug to treat cancer

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM): Ways of dealing with disease other than those used by doctors in standard medicine. This term covers a broad range of tested and untested methods, such as herbs/vitamins/minerals, mind/body/spirit, diet and nutrition, physical touch, and biological methods.

Fatigue (fuh-TEEG): The feeling of being tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. Cancer-related fatigue persists over time, may not get better with rest, and can interfere with usual activities.

Growth factors: Also known as colony-stimulating factors, growth factors are substances that stimulate the production of blood cells in the bone marrow. They can help the blood-forming tissue recover from the effects of chemo and radiation therapy. Growth factors can also refer to proteins that occur naturally in the body that cause cells to grow and divide.

Hormones: Natural substances released by an organ that can influence the function of other organs in the body and the growth of some types of cancer

Infusion: Slow and/or prolonged intravenous (IV) delivery of a drug or fluids

Injection: Using a syringe and needle to push fluids or drugs into the body; often called a shot

Intramuscular (IM): Into a muscle

Intrathecal (IT): Into the spinal fluid (also called cerebrospinal fluid or CSF)

Intravenous (IV): Into a vein

Malignant (muh-LIG-nunt): Cancerous

Metastasis (meh-TAS-tuh-sis) or metastasize (meh-TAS-tuh-SIZE): The spread of cancer cells to other areas of the body, often through the lymph system or bloodstream

Neoadjuvant therapy (NEE-o-AD-juh-vunt THER-uh-pee): Treatment, such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or radiation therapy, given before the main treatment is done

Oncologist (on-KAHL-uh-jist): A doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer

Orally (PO): Taken by mouth

Peripheral neuropathy (per-IF-er-uhl nur-AH-puth-ee): Damage to the nervous system that usually starts in the hands and/or feet with symptoms of numbness, tingling, burning, and/or weakness. It can be caused by some chemo drugs.

Platelets (Plts): Special blood cells that plug up damaged blood vessels and help blood clot to stop bleeding

Port: A type of central venous catheter (CVC) that’s a drum-shaped device surgically placed under the skin of the chest or upper arm. The attached catheter extends into a large or central vein. The port is accessed through the skin with a special needle and can be used to draw blood or give fluids, drugs, or blood products.

Radiation therapy (RAY-dee-A-shun THER-uh-pee): The use of high-energy rays or subatomic particles to treat disease

Red blood cells (RBCs): Cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body

Remission (re-MISH-un): The partial or complete disappearance of signs and symptoms of disease

Stomatitis (STO-muh-TIE-tus): Sores on the lining of the mouth

Topical: Put right on the skin

Tumor: An abnormal growth (lump or mass) of cells or tissues. Tumors are either benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

White blood cells (WBCs): The blood cells that fight infection

Last Medical Review: 06/09/2015
Last Revised: 06/09/2015