Chemotherapy at the Cancer Institute

Learn about the Samuel Oschin Cancer Center's infusion center, which is available to cancer patients 24 hours a day.



Chemotherapy, along with surgery and radiation therapy, is a common approach to treating cancer. Chemotherapy at its most basic is using chemicals to kill cells that cause disease.

The Samuel Oschin Cancer Center's outpatient infusion center provides chemotherapy and supportive services. The center is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Patients receive their therapy in a beautiful comfortable setting that doesn't look or feel like a typical medical center. But all the medical expertise and patient-centered care that Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is known for Is right there.

Because the treatment area is always open, the Samuel Oschin Cancer Center can accommodate working patients' schedules, as well as care for patients' urgent or unexpected needs. Certified oncology nurses (OCN), who are familiar with each patient's history and can offer support and ways to manage symptoms, are always available by telephone.

Different types of chemotherapy are used, depending on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. Intravenous chemotherapy normally takes two to six hours, but with hydration, premeds, blood infusions, etc., it can take up to 23 hours. For example, outpatient stem cell patients routinely stay most of a day, going home only for a few hours.

How Chemotherapy Works

Most chemotherapy drugs work by interrupting a cell's ability to divide and reproduce. As one of the qualities of cancer cells is their rapid growth by cell division, chemotherapy can help control cancer. Sometimes chemotherapeutic drugs are called cytotoxic because they kill certain types of cells. In some cases, combinations of drugs may be used together to fight cancer.

Chemotherapy is more effective on some tumors than others and on tumors that are found earlier rather than later. Doctors have not, as yet, been able to create chemotherapy drugs that target only cancer. As a result, having chemotherapy may affect other types of fast growing cells in the body such as hair or the cells that line the inside of the intestines.

Side effects of chemotherapy can include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, malnutrition, hair loss, bleeding or damage to the heart, liver or kidneys.
Because of the way chemotherapy works, it can depress the body's immune system. This may make a person more likely to get sick. Among the advances in the field of chemotherapy are new drugs that cause fewer side effects and other drugs that do a better job of controlling side effects when they occur.

The goal of chemotherapy is to return the patient to health by systemically treating known and microscopic cancer. Chemotherapy may be used along with radiation therapy and surgery to make sure that ll the cancer cells have been eliminated in treatment. It can be used to kill cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body.

How Chemotherapy is Given

Finding the proper dosage of a chemotherapy drug can be a balancing act. If too little is given, the drug doesn't kill or shrink the tumor. If too much is given, the drug can be intolerable to the patient. Having an experienced healthcare team means that finding the correct dosage and drug is easier.

Most chemotherapy drugs are given through the veins, although some are swallowed in pill form. When a person needs chemotherapy continuously, frequently or for long periods at a sitting, different devices may be used to deliver the drugs. These include pumps or devices that make it easier to give the drug without repeated needle sticks.

Chemotherapy is usually given for six to 12 months, with periods of treatment and periods of rest when the blood counts are allowed to return to normal.

Chemotherapy of the Future

Scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center are at work finding new chemotherapeutic drugs that more narrowly target cancer cells. This protects the body's healthy cells and has the potential of making chemotherapy more effective with fewer side effects.