What Chemotherapy Is Really Like, According to Cancer Survivors

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Chemotherapy is brutal

chemo therapy treatmentYou hear about chemotherapy—or chemo—in connection with cancer, but it really means the use of drugs to treat any disease. While surgery and radiation therapy can remove, kill, or damage cancer cells in a certain area, sometimes the cancer cells spread beyond the original site. Chemo works throughout the entire body, hunting down any rogue cancer cells that have metastasized to parts of the body far away from the original tumor, according to the American Cancer Society. Essentially, chemo is a form of poisoning that targets the fastest growing cells in the body; these are typically cancer cells, but other fast-growing parts of the body suffer as well—hair, skin, and the gastrointestinal tract.

Not every cancer needs treatment with chemo, but many do—about 650,000 Americans receive the treatment each year, according to the Centers For Disease Control. And while it saves many lives, the scorched-earth nature of the treatment can make it quite grueling. Because chemo isn’t just one drug—usually it’s a cocktail of different medications—and every patient is different, people’s experiences with chemotherapy can vary widely. So we asked cancer survivors to share the weird, interesting, and surprising things they learned about chemo—and don’t miss these other things cancer patients wish you knew.

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