Chemotherapy and other drug therapies

Cancer can be treated with different types of drugs, including chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy and supportive drug therapy. Each drug works in a different way to treat cancer.

  • Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells or slows them from growing or multiplying. Chemotherapy also temporarily affects some of your body’s healthy cells in the same way. You may receive one chemotherapy drug or a combination of different chemotherapy drugs.
  • Hormone therapy slows or stops your body’s production of the hormones that help some cancers to grow.  Hormones act as messengers in the body. 
  • Immunotherapy uses substances made from living organisms to strengthen your immune system and help it destroy cancer cells or stop them from coming back.
  • Targeted therapy uses substances made from living organisms to affect specific parts of cancer cells to stop them from growing and multiplying.  Targeted therapy may have less of an affect on your healthy cells than other cancer drugs.
  • Supportive drugs prevent, manage or relieve the side effects of cancer.  

You can learn more about cancer drugs by using the related resources on the right side of this page.

How cancer drugs are given

Cancer drugs are given in different ways. How they are given depends on the type of drug and your type of cancer. They may be given:

  • By swallowing the drugs as a pill or capsule (by mouth).
  • By infusion using an intravenous (tube into your vein).
  • By injection under your skin with a needle.

Cancer drugs are often given in a series of cycles. Each cycle includes your treatment days and some recovery days after treatment.

Your treatment days can range from 15 minutes to 6 hours. The length of your treatment day will depend on the type of drugs you receive. Your recovery days allow your body time to recover from the side effects of treatment before your next cycle. 

Where cancer drugs are given

Where you receive your cancer drugs will again depend on the type of drugs being given and your type of cancer. 

If you are getting your cancer drugs by infusion or injection, you will go to a hospital. Most treatment plans do not require you to stay at the hospital overnight to get your cancer drugs. When possible, you will get your cancer drugs at a hospital close to your home. 

If you are getting your cancer drugs as a pill or capsule by mouth, you can take them at home. In this case, it is important that you follow your cancer care team’s instructions on how to take you cancer drugs at home.

Your cancer care team will give you specific instructions for when and where you will receive your cancer drugs.

You can learn more about where cancer drugs are given and what to expect at your appointments by using the related services on the right side of this page.

Side effects of cancer drugs

Cancer drugs often cause side effects. The types of side effects depend on the drugs and your type of cancer. People also experience side effects in different ways. Even if you get the same treatment as someone else, your body may react differently.

Your cancer care team will talk with you about what side effects to expect before your treatment starts. You will also receive information on how to manage these side effects if they occur. You will be prescribed medications that help with certain side effects. An example is an anti-nausea medication. The cancer care team will explain in detail how to take these medications to lessen your side effects.