Chemotherapy is a process in which specific drugs designed to attack rapidly dividing cancer cells are introduced into the body by a variety of methods, but most often through the bloodstream. There are new chemotherapy approaches that do not focus just on dividing cells, but upon blocking the function of a particular enzyme within a tumor cell or a special receptor at the surface of the tumor cell.

Most people with esophageal cancer get chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs for esophageal cancer are usually given through a vein (intravenous). You may have your treatment in a clinic, at the doctor’s office, or at home. Some people need to stay in the hospital for treatment.

Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles. Each cycle has a treatment period followed by a rest period.

The side effects

The side effects depend mainly on which drugs are given and how much. Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, but the drug can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly:

  • Blood cells: When chemotherapy lowers the levels of healthy blood cells, you’re more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your health care team will check for low levels of blood cells. If your levels are low, your health care team may stop the chemotherapy for a while or reduce the dose of drug. There also are medicines that can help your body make new blood cells.
  • Cells in hair roots: Chemotherapy may cause hair loss. If you lose your hair, it will grow back, but it may change in color and texture.
  • Cells that line the digestive tract: Chemotherapy can cause poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Your health care team can give you medicines and suggest other ways to help with these problems.


Other possible side effects

Include a skin rash, joint pain, tingling or numbness in your hands and feet, hearing problems, or swollen feet or legs. Your health care team can suggest ways to control many of these problems. Most go away when treatment ends. You may find it helpful to read NCI’s booklet Chemotherapy and You.

Source: The Web site of the National Cancer Institute