Patients at Richmond University Medical Center benefit from a wide range of medical services, including advanced oncology care. With comprehensive cancer treatment options, the hospital is staffed by an experienced team of board-certified oncologists, nurses, therapists, and pharmacists. Richmond University Medical Center serves patients in Staten Island, New York, and the surrounding area.
Because of its ability to limit the growth of cancer cells in the body, chemotherapy has become a common and effective form of cancer treatment. With ongoing research and new developments in anticancer drugs, patients and their loved ones can be optimistic about the future of cancer care. Learn more about chemotherapy, how it works, and what to expect during treatment.
What Is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is one of the more widely used forms of cancer treatment. This type of therapy uses chemical agents to kill cancer cells and stop new malignant cells from growing. Chemotherapy drugs are usually given intravenously over a series of appointments. Patients undergoing cancer treatment may receive chemotherapy as a standalone therapy or in combination with other treatments like radiation.
How Chemotherapy Works
The goal of chemotherapy is to destroy the cancer cells that grow in the body. During chemotherapy, the patient receives a combination of drugs that travel through the bloodstream. Chemotherapy is effective because cancer cells can grow and divide rapidly and spread to other parts of the body beyond the location of the original tumor. Unlike surgery and radiation, which treat a specific area of the body, chemotherapy can eradicate cancer cells regardless of where they are located.
The most common types of chemotherapy drugs are:
- Alkylating agents: These drugs damage cancer cell DNA to keep these cells from making copies of themselves.
- Antimetabolites: This group of medications stops cancer cells from reproducing by interfering with the building blocks of DNA and RNA.
- Anti-tumor antibiotics: These anticancer drugs interfere with DNA to block growth in cancer cells.
- Topoisomerase inhibitors: These medications target an enzyme called topoisomerase and prevent it from allowing DNA to copy itself. This damages the cell DNA and stops cancer cells from multiplying.
- Mitotic inhibitors: These drugs interfere with mitosis, the process that allows cells to divide and reproduce.
When Is Chemotherapy Used?
ven if two patients have the same type of cancer, their treatment plans may be different. Chemotherapy can serve different purposes in cancer care, including:
- Neoadjuvant therapy: Chemotherapy is sometimes used to shrink the size of a tumor before surgery or radiation.
- Control: If cancer cells cannot be fully eliminated from the body, chemotherapy may be used to control the spread of cancer.
- Remission: If a patient has entered remission but their oncology team suspects their cancer will grow back, they may recommend chemotherapy as a form of maintenance therapy.
- Palliation: In some cases, chemotherapy is used to relieve pain, improve a patient’s quality of life, and mitigate the symptoms of cancer.
Factors to Consider
The oncologists at Richmond University Medical Center develop individual treatment plans for each patient. They will base the types of chemotherapy drugs, dosage, and treatment schedule on several different factors. These include:
- Cancer type: There are over 100 different types of chemotherapy drugs, and certain types of cancer require specific drug combinations.
- Cancer stage: Staging assesses how far cancer has progressed and spread in a patient’s body. More advanced forms of cancer may require higher dosages or more frequent appointments.
- Patient health: Chemotherapy takes a toll on the body, so a provider will consider the patient’s overall health and any pre-existing medical conditions.
- Previous cancer treatments: A patient who has received chemotherapy in the past can develop a resistance to certain drugs, so their dosage or drug combination may need to be adjusted for future treatments.
What to Expect During Chemotherapy Treatment
Chemotherapy can be administered in different ways. The most common forms are:
- Intravenous (IV): Chemotherapy drugs are injected into a vein.
- Oral: The patient takes pills or capsules by mouth.
- Intramuscular (IM): Medication is injected into the muscle tissue.
- Subcutaneous: Medication is injected just below the surface of the skin.
Chemotherapy is administered in an outpatient setting at a hospital, clinic, or cancer care center. Treatments are often given in cycles, and a patient may have days or weeks off between treatments, giving the body a chance to recover after each appointment.
Each chemotherapy appointment can last several hours. Multiple patients may receive their chemotherapy treatments in the same room together. Some patients take a nap during their appointment, others like to read, watch TV, or listen to music. Depending on the medications a patient receives, they may need a friend or family member to drive them home afterward. A chemotherapy appointment may also include blood work or a consultation with a physician or nurse.
Follow-up Care After Chemotherapy
Once a treatment cycle ends, the patient will have regular follow-up appointments with their oncologist. These appointments may include physical examinations, blood work, or imaging tests like an MRI or CT scan. The oncologist will need to check that the patient’s cancer has not progressed or spread further, as well as monitor their overall health and any ongoing side effects of treatment.
Depending on the outcome, the patient may need to do additional rounds of chemotherapy or prepare for another form of treatment like immunotherapy or radiation. If the oncologist can no longer detect cancer cells in the body, the patient has entered remission and may not need additional treatments.
Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects
Before a patient begins a treatment cycle, their care team will go over the possible side effects of chemotherapy. Because chemotherapy drugs target rapidly dividing cancer cells, they can also affect healthy cells that divide quickly, like hair follicles. This is why many patients undergoing chemotherapy experience hair loss.
While side effects can vary from patient to patient, they may include:
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Mouth sores
- Muscle aches and pains
Symptoms can become more severe as the treatment cycle progresses. Some side effects go away after chemotherapy ends. Others, like fatigue, may continue for a few months after treatment.
Patients undergoing chemotherapy should talk with their oncology team about managing side effects. For example, some patients experiencing loss of appetite find it helpful to eat smaller, more frequent meals and snacks instead of three big meals each day. Side effects like muscle aches, diarrhea, and nausea can often be treated with over-the-counter medications.
Hair loss can be an emotionally challenging side effect of chemotherapy. A patient may choose to shave their head, wear a wig, or use a head scarf during treatment. Other patients use a cooling cap throughout their treatment cycle to help reduce hair loss.
Protecting the Immune System During Chemotherapy
Because chemotherapy can weaken the body’s immune system, patients undergoing this treatment are more susceptible to infection. Because of this, patients need to take extra steps to avoid getting sick before, during, and after chemotherapy. These can include:
- Frequent handwashing
- Avoiding large crowds
- Staying up to date on vaccinations
- Staying hydrated and eating a balanced diet
- Being cognizant of warning signs of infection, like fever or cough
Center for Cancer Care
Patients who have received a cancer diagnosis may be referred to Richmond University Medical Center’s dedicated Center for Cancer Care, located at 1000 South Avenue in Staten Island. Providing advanced cancer treatments close to home, the medical team offers personalized care in a welcoming environment.
Richmond University Medical Center has been accredited by the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer for more than 80 years, making it the longest consecutively accredited cancer program in Staten Island. The hospital has also received accolades from the American College of Radiology and the American College of Radiation Oncology.
In addition to chemotherapy, the Center for Cancer Care provides a range of innovative treatments, including:
- Targeted therapy
- Linear accelerator (LINAC) therapy
- High dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy
- Image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT)
- Stereotactic radiosurgery
- Stereotactic body radiotherapy
Richmond University Medical Center also offers palliative care services to support patients on their cancer journey, from behavioral health counseling to social service referrals.
Learn More About Cancer Care at Richmond University Medical Center
The oncology department at Richmond University Medical Center is staffed by experienced physicians, nurses, and patient navigators. The medical team draws on high-tech treatments and the latest breakthroughs in chemotherapy to achieve the best possible outcomes for each patient. Every patient will receive a comprehensive evaluation to determine a customized treatment plan.
Serving patients throughout Staten Island, New York, Richmond University Medical Center received the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for quality and patient safety. To schedule a consultation, request a referral from a physician or contact us today.