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Stomach Cancer: Chemotherapy

Photo of intravenous drug bag

Stomach cancer may be treated with chemotherapy. This is the use of medicines to destroy cancer cells. The drugs change how cancer cells grow or reproduce. 

How chemotherapy helps

Chemotherapy can help treat stomach cancer in several ways:

  • It can shrink the cancer before surgery. This can help make the surgery easier.

  • It can destroy any cancer cells that remain after surgery. For this goal, it is often used with radiation therapy.

  • It can destroy stomach cancer cells that have spread. In some cases, cells can spread to other parts of the body. This is called metastasis.

Side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy affects normal cells, as well as cancer cells. This can cause side effects. The side effects depend on the amount and type of medication used. Talk with your health care providers about what to expect. Side effects may occur in the days or weeks while you are having chemotherapy. Once your treatment has ended, the side effects usually go away. The side effects may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Decreased appetite

  • Sores in the mouth

  • Diarrhea

  • Feeling tired

  • Increased chance of infection

  • Loss of hair

Talk with your health care providers about any side effects you have. They may be able to help lessen them. 

Types of chemotherapy medication

There are many different kinds of chemotherapy drugs. Each 1 works in a different way. Some are given by mouth as pills. Other types of drugs are given in a vein through an IV. Two of the most common drugs used to treat stomach cancer are fluorouracil and cisplatin. Others include:

  • Irinotecan

  • Carboplatin

  • Epirubicin

  • Oxaliplatin

  • Paclitaxel

  • Docetaxel

  • Capecitabine

What is targeted therapy?

Another type of medication is called targeted therapy. This uses drugs that target certain parts of specific types of cancer cells. They interfere with a cancer's ability to grow and survive. The therapies are specific to each person's cancer. Your cancer cells must be tested before the therapy is done. This is so the right drug can be used. For example, some people have HER2-positive stomach cancer. This means the cancer cells have too much HER2 protein. The drug to treat this type of cancer cell may be different from the drug to treat another type of cancer cell.

How chemotherapy is used

Chemotherapy may be used in several ways:

  • A single drug may be used. For example, fluorouracil may be used after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that remain. 

  • Two or more drugs may be used together. For example, paclitaxel and carboplatin may be used before surgery to help shrink cancer.

  • A drug may be used with targeted therapy. 

What to expect for your treatment

Most people have chemotherapy as outpatients at hospitals or clinics. You will likely not need to stay overnight. Chemotherapy is given in cycles that last a few weeks. You will be given the drugs with rest periods in between. This is to help let your body recover. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, MEd
Last Review Date: 7/29/2014
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.