Understanding Chemotherapy

It’s reasonable for a cancer patient to have concerns about the effects of chemotherapy on their body or appearance.

At City of Hope, we offer the counsel of caring, sympathetic experts and a library of other resources to help you understand chemotherapy treatment, its side effects and how to manage the symptoms of side effects.

What Is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy, also called “chemo,” destroys, stops or slows the growth of cancer cells using anticancer drugs. While these powerful medications can be effective in killing cancer cells, they can also damage healthy cells in the process.

Whether done alone, or paired with other treatment options like radiation therapy and surgery, chemotherapy can play an essential role in your cancer treatment plan.


When and How Is Chemotherapy Given During Treatment?

Chemotherapy is typically administered in an outpatient location, like a hospital or doctor’s office. Treatment can be given:

  • In pill form
  • As an injection
  • Intravenously (into a vein)
  • Intrathecal (into the tissue that covers your brain and spinal cord)
  • Intra-arterial (into an artery)
  • Intraperitoneal (into the area where your intestines, stomach and liver are located)
  • Topically (onto the skin)
  • Directly into the area where the cancer is located








Treatment sessions can last for hours at a time, so patients are encouraged to bring books, music or movies—anything that will provide comfort and help pass the time. It is also important to have a friend or family member available to take you to and from each appointment, since it is difficult to gauge how you will feel after treatment.

Chemotherapy treatment schedules are tailored to each patient. They can occur daily, weekly, every few weeks or monthly, depending on the cancer type and stage. Each treatment is followed by a rest period, giving the body time to recover and re-build healthy cells.


Frequently Asked Questions About Chemotherapy

Side Effects

The side effects of chemotherapy vary from person to person. By working closely with your doctor and caregiver, it is possible to successfully prepare for and manage any side effects you might experience. Knowledge can be critical to restoring the health and well-being of our patients and their families. We invite you to download our literature on the following topics:

  • Pain
  • Changes in appetite


Do You Have an Infusion Pump?

Watch the Mobile Chemotherapy Infusion Pump Education video on how to give yourself an infusion at home.

Watch Video With Spanish Captions

Mire el video educativo de la bomba de infusión de quimioterapia móvil sobre cómo administrarse una infusión en casa.

Watch Video With Chinese Captions


You May Also Be Interested In

Ask your health care team for a one-on-one chemotherapy teaching appointment at the clinic. During this education appointment, a nurse will give you important information about your chemotherapy treatment, how to manage side effects of treatment, direct you resources for information and support and to answer any questions or concerns that you or your family may have. Please call your health care team to schedule a chemotherapy teaching appointment.

Many of the downloadable booklets below are also available in print format at the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center located on the Duarte main campus.

Our Department of Supportive Care Medicine provides an integrated, interdisciplinary array of supportive care services and programs that address the many physical and emotional issues that can arise during and after treatment to help you navigate City of Hope and ensure access to the resources you need.

Resources for Support and Information


For treatment to be as effective as possible, patients should try their best to maintain their weight, but this is hard to do when many side effects of treatment negatively impact patients’ ability and desire to eat.

For families and caregivers

A key part of your role is to help identify and address medical symptoms or complications by using the appropriate resources, which means you have to be as informed about the diagnosis and treatment as the patient.

Life During Treatment

Patients about to undergo treatment for an illness often feel overwhelmed with how much they need to learn. The goal is for this page to answer those questions and many more. It’s a resource there for you anytime you need it.

Questions To Ask Your Care Team

When talking with your doctor or another member of the care team, ask specific questions regarding any concerns you may have about your treatment.