Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. For stomach cancer, chemotherapy is commonly given before surgery to shrink large tumours and destroy any cancer cells that may have spread. It may also be used after surgery to reduce the chance of the disease coming back. Chemotherapy is also used palliatively.
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Chemotherapy is usually given as a liquid through a drip inserted into a vein in the arm. It may also be given through a tube implanted into a vein (called a port, catheter or vascular access device), or as tablets you swallow. You will usually receive treatment as an outpatient.
Most people receive a combination of drugs in repeating cycles spread over several months. There may be a rest period of 2–3 weeks between each cycle of chemotherapy. Your doctor will talk to you about how long your treatment will last.
The side effects of chemotherapy vary greatly for each person. Some people have few side effects, while others have many. Most side effects are temporary, but some may last longer or be ongoing. Your medical oncologist or nurse will discuss the likely side effects with you, including how they can be prevented or controlled with medicine.
Side effects may include feeling sick (nausea), vomiting, sore mouth or mouth ulcers, appetite changes and difficulty swallowing, skin and nail changes, numbness in the hands or feet, ringing in the ears or hearing loss, constipation or diarrhoea, and hair loss or thinning. You may also be more likely to catch infections.
Video: What is chemotherapy?
Watch this short video to learn more about chemotherapy.