NCCN Guidelines for Patients
: Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Part 6: Overview of cancer treatments
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Chemotherapy, or “chemo,” is the use of drugs to treat cancer. Chemotherapy stops
the growth process of cells in an active growth phase. It does not work on cells in
a resting phase. Cancer cells grow fast, so chemotherapy works well to stop new
cancer cells from being made.
Chemotherapy is given alone or sometimes with radiation to treat lung cancer.
When only one drug is used, it is called a single agent. However, these drugs differ
in the way they work, so often more than one drug is used. A combination regimen
is the use of two or more chemotherapy drugs.
Most chemotherapy drugs for lung cancer are liquids that are slowly injected into a
vein. Some are a pill that is swallowed. The drugs travel in the bloodstream to treat
cancer throughout the body.
Chemotherapy is given in cycles of treatment days followed by days of rest. This
allows the body to recover before the next cycle. Cycles vary in length depending
on which drugs are used. Often, a cycle is 14, 21, or 28 days long.
Side effects of chemotherapy
The reactions to chemotherapy differ. Some people have many side effects. Others
have few. Some side effects can be very serious while others can be unpleasant but
Side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drug type, amount taken, length of
treatment, and the person. In general, side effects are caused by the death of fast-
growing cells. These cells are found in the gut, mouth, and blood. Thus, common
side effects of chemotherapy include low blood cell counts, not feeling hungry,
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, and mouth sores.
Not all side effects of chemotherapy are listed here. Please ask your treatment team
for a complete list of common and rare side effects. If a side effect bothers you,
tell your treatment team. There may be ways to help you feel better.
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