Stomach Cancer: Chemotherapy
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy (chemo) uses anticancer medicines to kill cancer cells. The medicines are made to attack and kill cancer cells that grow quickly. Some normal cells also grow quickly. Because of this, chemo can also harm those cells. This can cause side effects.
When might chemo be used for stomach cancer?
Chemo can help treat stomach cancer in several ways:
It can shrink the cancer before surgery. This can help make the cancer easier to remove.
It can destroy any cancer cells that remain after surgery. For this goal, it’s often used with radiation. This may be called chemoradiation.
It can destroy stomach cancer cells that have spread. In some cases, stomach cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. This is called metastasis. Chemo may then be the main treatment. It goes throughout the body in your blood and can kill cancer cells that have spread beyond your stomach.
What types of chemo are commonly used to treat stomach cancer?
There are many different kinds of chemo medicines. Each works in a different way. Some are given by mouth as pills. Most are given in a vein through an intravenous line (IV).
The two most common medicines used to treat stomach cancer include:
Other chemo medicines for stomach cancer include:
Most people get chemo as outpatients at hospitals or clinics. You will likely not need to stay overnight.
In most cases, two different chemo medicines are used at the same time. They can also be used alone of combined with targeted therapy. You’ll receive chemo in cycles that last a few weeks. You’ll receive the medicines with rest periods in between. This is to help let your body recover between treatments.
What are common side effects of chemo?
Chemo affects normal cells, as well as cancer cells. This can cause side effects. The side effects you have depend on the amount and type of medicine you receive. Talk with your healthcare providers about what to expect with your chemo.
Side effects may occur in the days or weeks while you’re having chemo. Once your treatment ends, the side effects usually go away over time. The side effects may include:
Nausea and vomiting
Loss of appetite
Sores in the mouth
Bruising and bleeding more easily than normal
Talk with your healthcare providers about any side effects you have. There may be ways to manage the side effects.
Working with your healthcare provider
It's important to know which chemo medicines you're taking. Write your medicines down, and ask your healthcare team how they work and what side effects they might have.
Talk with your healthcare providers about what signs to look for and when to call them. For example, chemo can make you more likely to get infections. Make sure you know what number to call with questions. Is there a different number for evenings and weekends?
It may be helpful to keep a diary of your side effects. Write down physical, thinking, and emotional changes. A written list will make it easier for you to remember your questions when you go to your appointments. It will also make it easier for you to work with your healthcare team to make a plan to manage your side effects.
What to Expect After Chemotherapy for Stomach Cancer
The side effects of chemotherapy are different for everyone. They depend on these factors:
The type of drug you’re taking
How often you take it
How long your treatment lasts
Your medical oncologist and chemotherapy nurse will talk with you about possible side effects of your treatment. Here are some typical side effects for the most commonly used chemotherapy drugs for stomach cancer. Talk with your health care team about which ones are most likely to happen to you:
Heart problems (rarely)
Nausea or vomiting
Thick and discolored nails
Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
These side effects will go away during rest periods between treatments and after your treatment ends. Ask your doctor or nurse for ways to ease these side effects.