CHEMOTHERAPY

Expert care and the latest cancer treatments.

Woman holds man's hand during chemo

Getting started

Chemotherapy (“chemo”) is a type of cancer treatment that uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells by stopping or slowing their growth. It can be used both to treat cancer and to ease symptoms. Chemo can be given alone or with other treatments such as radiation and surgery. 
 

Meet our providers

Our cancer specialists work closely together to deliver the latest treatments based on your needs. Learn more about your medical oncology team.

For ovarian or uterine cancer care, learn more about the gynecologic oncology team.

Understanding chemotherapy

There are four main goals for chemotherapy:

  • Curative therapy to kill all cancer cells.

  • Adjuvant therapy which targets cells left after surgery to prevent recurrences.

  • Neoadjuvant therapy to shrink tumors before surgery.

  • Palliative therapy to give relief when not possible to remove all tumor cells.

Your doctor weighs many factors when choosing your drugs and doses, such as your age, the type of cancer you have and its stage, as well as your overall health.

There are a number of chemotherapy treatment options. It can be taken as a pill, by injection, topically, directly into the body through a “port,” or by “infusion,” which puts the drugs right into your bloodstream. It’s usually given in an outpatient setting. Through the OHSU Knight–Legacy Health Cancer Collaborative, Legacy has six clinics where you can receive chemotherapy by infusion with assistance from the clinic staff in a comfortable setting.

Chemotherapy is usually given in “cycles” to reduce damage to healthy cells. Cycles can be daily, weekly, every few weeks or monthly, depending on your treatment plan.


Managing chemotherapy side effects

Chemo drugs go after fast-changing cancer cells but can’t distinguish from other similar healthy cells. The damage to healthy cells causes side effects for some. The severity varies from person to person and depends on the drugs and dosage used.

 

Short-term side effects

Some of the common side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Digestive issues (nausea, diarrhea, appetite changes, weight changes)

  • Hair loss and skin and nail changes

  • Mouth, tongue and throat problems

  • “Chemo brain” or loss concentration/fogginess

Your doctor will work with you to minimize side effects. For example, you may be prescribed drugs to help with nausea, given transfusions to treat anemia or antibiotics and antifungal drugs to help prevent infection.

There are some things you can do on your own to manage any side effects. A few options include eating easily digestible foods to help with nausea and having several small meals to improve your appetite. Your Legacy Cancer Institute care team will have more suggestions to cope with these symptoms.

Long-term side effects

Most side effects end shortly after chemotherapy. Talk to your doctor about long-term side effects and the impact on your organs. Some drugs minimize these effects.


When to notify your team

While certain side effects are common, please tell your team if you experience any of these symptoms:


  • Fever over 100.4

  • Unexplained bruises or small red spots on your skin

  • Bleeding from the gums, nose or vagina

  • Headaches or vision changes


Also notify the team if you are feeling sleepy or confused, have a warm or hot feeling in your arms or legs, or have odd-colored urine or bowel movements.


What happens next

To see how well your treatment is working, some of the tests used to diagnose and stage your cancer may be repeated. Your doctor uses these tests to decide whether to stop, change or continue treatment based on the results. The tests can also determine if cancer has returned.


Whenever possible, we work to stop cancer. But when we can’t, we can often control it for a better quality of life, often called palliative care.


Working together for you

Our cancer experts work together with a common goal: delivering the right care for you.

A range of specialists collaborate regularly in meetings called tumor boards to discuss the best plan for your care. Your treatment plan is made just for you, depending on your general health, your age, your particular cancer and its growth.


More support

You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.

Nurse navigators
Legacy Cancer Healing Center 
Support groups and classes
Cancer rehabilitation 
Survivorship services

Meet our providers

Our cancer specialists work closely together to deliver the latest treatments based on your needs. Learn more about your medical oncology team.

For ovarian or uterine cancer care, learn more about the gynecologic oncology team.

Find a location

Legacy's services are part of the OHSU Knight–Legacy Health Cancer Collaborative. This collaboration with OHSU has many treatment locations across the Portland-Vancouver metro area  Find one near you