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38

NCCN Guidelines for Patients

®

Esophageal Cancer, Version 1.2016

4

Overview of cancer treatments Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy, or “chemo,” includes drugs

that disrupt the life cycle of cancer cells. Some

chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells by damaging

their DNA or by disrupting the making of DNA. Other

drugs interfere with cell parts that are needed for

making new cells. Thus, no new cells are made to

replace dying cells. Chemotherapy can affect both

cancer and normal cells.

As shown in

Figure 13

, some chemotherapy drugs

work when cells are in an active growth phase. During

the active growth phase, cells grow and divide to

form a new cell. Chemotherapy drugs that disrupt

the growth phase work well for cancer cells that are

growing and dividing quickly. Other chemotherapy

drugs work in any growth or resting phase.

Chemotherapy and other cancer drugs used

for esophageal cancer are listed in

Guide 2

.

Sometimes, only one drug is used. Other times, more

than one drug is used because drugs differ in the way

they work.

Most chemotherapy drugs for esophageal cancer

are liquids that are slowly injected into a vein. Only

capecitabine is made as a pill. By any method, the

drugs travel in your bloodstream to treat cancer

throughout your body. Doctors use the term

“systemic” when talking about a cancer treatment for

the whole 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

Side effects of chemotherapy depend on many

factors. These factors include the drug type, amount

Figure 13.

Chemotherapy and the cell

cycle

A cell goes through many changes

to divide into two cells. Science

has grouped these changes into

7 main phases. There may be

another phase of rest, too. Some

chemotherapy drugs work in any

phase. Other chemotherapy drugs

work in one or two growth phases.

Chemotherapy may work in some or all phases of cell division

Copyright © 2016 National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®).

www.nccn.org