Chemotherapy Treatment for Cancer | Tampa General Hospital


Cancer cells tend to multiply much more quickly than most healthy cells. Chemotherapy is a medication-based systemic treatment that capitalizes on this common tumor characteristic. After being precisely developed by a medical oncologist, a tailored combination of powerful drugs is administered to the patient, usually as an infusion into a vein (intravenously). Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they can circulate throughout the body to target and destroy rapidly dividing cancer cells, some of which may have spread far from the primary tumor.

Tampa General Hospital’s Cancer Institute proudly offers the latest innovations in chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. Accredited by the Commission on Cancer (CoC), TGH has earned the prestigious “High Performing in Cancer” designation from U.S. News & World Report for 2023-24, ranking us among the top 10% of hospitals in the nation.

What Conditions Can Be Treated With Chemotherapy?

A well-established cancer treatment, chemotherapy can be used to treat many types of primary, metastatic and recurrent cancer, including:

What Does Chemotherapy Involve?

Chemotherapy may be administered in a hospital, in a doctor’s office or at home. Most often, it is delivered intravenously through a thin needle placed in a vein in the lower arm or hand. The needle is inserted before each treatment session, then removed immediately afterward.

Intravenous (IV) chemotherapy can also be delivered through a soft, thin tube (catheter). One end of the catheter is placed in a large vein, often in the chest, and the other end is left outside the body. In addition to chemotherapy, the catheter can be used to administer other drugs and draw blood. The tube remains in place until the chemotherapy is completed.

Another IV option is a chemo port, which is a small, round disc placed under the skin during a minor surgical procedure. The port is connected to a large vein, usually in the chest, via a catheter. Needles can be placed in the port to deliver chemo and other medications, eliminating the need for repeated needle sticks. The port is surgically removed after the chemotherapy is completed.

Chemotherapy can also be administered orally in pill or capsule form, injected into a body cavity such as the bladder, injected into a muscle (intramuscular chemo) or injected into the spinal fluid (intrathecal chemo).

How Does Chemotherapy Work?

Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of rapidly dividing cancer cells. The treatment can be used in several ways, such as:

Curative Therapy

In some cases, chemotherapy is used as the primary treatment for cancer. The goals are to completely eliminate the tumor and prevent it from coming back.

Neoadjuvant Therapy

Chemotherapy may be administered before another treatment to increase the likelihood of success. For instance, chemo may be used to shrink a tumor before surgery to make the tumor easier to remove, or before radiation therapy to reduce the radiation target, and thus reduce the body's exposure to radiation.

Adjuvant Therapy

To maximize the effectiveness of cancer treatment, chemotherapy may be administered after another treatment is completed. For instance, chemo is often used after surgery or radiation therapy to help destroy any residual cancer cells and reduce the chance of a recurrence.

Palliative Therapy

Even though chemotherapy cannot cure most cancers that have spread beyond the original tumor site, it may still be used to ease uncomfortable symptoms caused by the cancer and help a patient achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life.

What to Expect With Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy works by targeting rapidly dividing cells. In addition to cancer cells, however, some healthy cells also divide very rapidly as part of their normal function. These include:

  • Blood-forming cells in the bone marrow
  • Hair follicles
  • Cells in the mouth, digestive tract and reproductive system

Because chemo drugs cannot differentiate between rapidly dividing cancer cells and rapidly dividing healthy cells, they may damage or interfere with the growth of some healthy cells. This can cause side effects, such as:

  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Frequent infections
  • Anemia (low red blood cell counts)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Appetite changes
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Mouth sores and painful swallowing
  • Dry skin
  • "Chemo brain," or an inability to fully concentrate or focus
  • Mood changes
  • Fertility problems

Most chemotherapy side effects are temporary and gradually resolve once the treatment is completed.

How Effective Is Chemotherapy?

Despite its potential side effects, chemotherapy has been an effective and reliable cancer treatment for several decades. Even if it cannot completely rid the body of cancer, it can enhance the patient's quality of life by reducing the associated symptoms.

Chemotherapy vs. Immunotherapy

Chemotherapy and immunotherapy are two common cancer treatments that employ different approaches. Chemotherapy drugs have an immediate impact; they target and destroy cancer cells while the drugs remain in the body. Immunotherapy drugs work over a longer period; they boost the body’s immune system so it will continue to recognize and attack cancer cells long after the treatment has ended.

Benefit From World-Class Care at TGH

At TGH, we take an individualized approach to cancer treatment. If you turn to us for chemotherapy, our renowned team of medical oncologists will determine the precise combination of chemo drugs that offers the most promise for your specific diagnosis, then tailor the dosage to meet your unique needs. If would like to discuss chemotherapy with an expert on our team, contact us at (800) 844-4151 to request an appointment.