Stomach Cancer

Cancer 101: Cancer Explained

Chemotherapy

Most people with stomach cancer get chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.

It may be given before or after surgery. After surgery, radiation therapy may be given along with chemotherapy.

The drugs that treat stomach cancer are usually given through a vein (intravenous). You'll probably receive a combination of drugs.

You may receive chemotherapy in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. Some people need to stay in the hospital during treatment.

The side effects depend mainly on which drugs are given and how much. Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, but the drugs can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly:

  • Blood cells: When drugs lower the levels of healthy blood cells, you're more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your health care team will check for low levels of blood cells. If your levels are low, your health care team may stop the chemotherapy for a while or reduce the dose of the drug. There are also medicines that can help your body make new blood cells.
  • Cells in hair roots: Chemotherapy may cause hair loss. If you lose your hair, it will grow back after treatment, but the color and texture may be changed.
  • Cells that line the digestive tract: Chemotherapy can cause a poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Your health care team can give you medicines and suggest other ways to help with these problems. They usually go away when treatment ends.

Some drugs used for stomach cancer also may cause a skin rash, hearing loss, and tingling or numbness in your hands and feet. Your health care team can suggest ways to control many of these side effects.

You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having chemotherapy:

  • Why do I need this treatment?
  • Which drug or drugs will I have?
  • How do the drugs work?
  • When will treatment start?
  • When will it end?
  • Will I have any long-term side effects?
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