The Cell Cycle

There are many kinds of chemotherapy (chemo) medications. Different types of chemo medications work on different phases of the cell cycle. The cell cycle is a series of phases that all cells, both normal and cancerous, go through to form new cells. The cycle begins with the cell in a resting phase. In the G1 phase, the cell grows larger and begins to make proteins. The S phase is where chromosomes are copied so the 2 new cells that will be created will have identical DNA. In G2, the cell begins to divide. Finally, the cell splits into two cells. This last phase is known as mitosis. Ask your doctor if you are interested in learning how the medications in your treatment plan affect the cell cycle.

Cell Cycle

Classes of Commonly Used Chemo Medications

This is not a complete list of chemo medication classes, but it can offer you an idea of how chemo medications are classified and how they work in terms of the cell life cycle. These medications may be combined to attack cancer cells in different ways.

  • Alkylating agents: These types of medications interfere with the way cells work and can kill cells in various phases of the cell cycle.
  • Antimetabolites: These medications mimic the building block of DNA. They do not allow the cell to make DNA, which the cells need to grow. By blocking this process the cells cannot reproduce and eventually die.
  • Plant alkaloids: These medications are made from plants. They work by preventing cancer cells from dividing.
  • Mitotic inhibitors: These medications are made from plants and other natural products. They work by preventing cells from dividing.
  • Antitumor antibiotic: These medications prevent cells from reproducing.
  • Topoisomerase inhibitors: These medications block certain enzymes that cells need to reproduce.

All types of chemo medications cause chemo side effects. No matter which one you are taking, you should speak with your doctor and care team about what to expect.

Support Treatments

Chemo side effects are related to the damage chemo does to your body's normal cells. You may need to take medications or other treatments that help you manage or minimize various chemo side effects of chemo medications.

Supportive treatments can include:

Speak with your doctor and care team about treatments to manage your chemo side effects.

Tips for Your Treatment Plan

Your doctor has prescribed a specific dose of chemo. He or she has also created a chemo schedule with the hope of providing the best chance of meeting your treatment goals. Do your best to work with your doctor to take the proper steps to help manage your chemo side effects.

Tips to help meet your treatment goals:

  • Get support from friends and family members in ways that will make going through treatment easier.
  • Plan meals in advance. Make and freeze food, or ask friends to help by bringing meals to your house.
  • Schedule social and family events around your treatment plan. Make sure to stay active and engaged when you are feeling up to it.
  • Keep a treatment calendar. Keep track of your chemo side effects and tell your doctor how you are feeling throughout your treatment.
  • Talk to your doctor and care team about what you can do to address chemo side effects.
A Closer Look: Regina*
Regina has had a recurrence of breast cancer. It's been 3 years since her last chemo treatments.
She asks her best friend to be her caregiver. Four of her neighbors agree to make meals for her and drive her to chemo treatments.
Regina and her doctor review all her treatments and their possible side effects.
She keeps a binder with her schedule, personal contacts, lab tests, and notes from doctor's visits.
She speaks with her doctor about supportive treatments that may help her lower her risk for chemo side effects usually associated with her chemo.
She joins a cancer support group, which meets at her cancer clinic.
She speaks with her care team about getting reimbursed through insurance for a wig.

*This is a fictional case study based on chemo patient experiences. Your experience is unique. Your doctor and care team will create a plan that will best treat your type of cancer and manage your chemo side effects.

  • The Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide can help you understand your
    risk of infection

    Infection can be a serious side effect of strong chemo. Find out the factors that affect your risk of infection. Simply answer a few questions, and then print your results to share with your doctor.

    Use the Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide to find out more.