Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to treat cancer. Over 50% of people diagnosed with cancer receive chemotherapy. It is a proven and effective treatment, that has increased the survivability of many cancers and helps millions of people live longer, fuller, more productive lives. Before this course of treatment is used, you will have tests to establish your present condition, and which drugs will be used in your treatment.

Be prepared to take one or more of the these tests, which include:

  • X-ray
  • Blood test
  • Urine test
  • CT scans
  • EKG (electrocardiogram)

 

Chemotherapy Sessions
Chemotherapy is given in separate “sessions” over one or more days. These sessions are grouped together and called a “cycle”. Each grouping or “cycle” of chemotherapy is repeated several times with a gap of time in-between. A certain amount of time is allotted to individual patients between cycles that can vary between two to three weeks.

Your doctor will determine the best and most effective treatment schedule for you. These treatments may be administered daily, weekly or monthly. Your doctor may need to make several adjustments to your treatment throughout your care. You will need to be flexible for these changes and allot for treatment delays, changes in start and stop times, etc.

 

Day of Your Treatment
Some patients receiving infusion chemotherapy may experience dizziness, sedation and other symptoms that may make them unsteady on their feet.

  • Wear sensible, comfortable shoes, with non-slip soles.
  • Wear tops with sleeves you can roll up.
  • Wear socks in case your feet get cold.
  • Bring a change of clothes in case your clothing is soiled.

 

Dental Health During Chemotherapy
You may experience an increase in dental issues due to infections as a possible side effect to chemotherapy. It may be helpful to have a dental check-up prior to starting chemotherapy, especially if you have not had one in over 6 months. If you are not able to have dental health administered prior to chemotherapy, be sure to let your doctor know.

 

Side Effects
While your chemotherapy treatment fights your cancer, it has strong side effects that may cause you to experience serious symptoms of discomfort and cause the development of infections due to lowered white blood cell count. Your doctor will recommend different methods of managing these side effects throughout your treatment schedule.

Low White Blood Cell Count
A low white blood cell count means your immune system isn’t as strong as it could be, which can increase your risk of infection. Chemotherapy also induces low white blood cell count when the chemotherapy agents affect healthy cells. Low white blood cell count usually occurs after beginning certain types of strong chemotherapy agents and could continue for several days.

In some circumstances, your doctor may decide that you are too weak to receive chemotherapy. Because low white blood cell count can temporarily disrupt your cancer treatment, your doctor may decrease your dosage, delay or stop your treatments for a period of time.

Nausea
Nausea and vomiting may occur during your chemotherapy treatment course. This may continue immediately following your treatment, or last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Your doctor will have antiemetic or antinausea medication available to you and your dosage will depend on your chemotherapy treatment and the severity of your symptoms.

It is not unusual for patients to take more than one type of antinausea drug to manage the nausea. Along with the following helpful hints for reducing or preventing symptoms, your doctor or nurse may recommend other treatments to control the nausea caused by chemotherapy.

Prevention
Plan on eating bland, light and easy to digest foods that do not cause upset stomach. Avoid foods that are acidic. Try plain crackers, toast and gelatin.

 

When to Eat
You may find it helpful to eat a light meal or snack prior to your chemotherapy sessions. In some cases patients feel better when they receive treatment on an empty stomach. You will need to try different methods of managing nausea, including planning when you eat while you are on chemotherapy treatment.

Meal Sizes and Food Temperature
It may be helpful to avoid large meals and instead eat several smaller meals throughout the day. Some patients also find it easier to keep things down when food and drinks are eaten at warm or room temperature, avoiding heavily iced, or carbonated drinks or allowing dishes to cool before eating.

Be Prepared
It is advisable to prepare your home prior to beginning chemotherapy, while you are feeling strong and unaffected by potential side effects. Preparing will also help to reduce stress on yourself and your family during the difficult times ahead. Don’t hesitate to use the resources available to you, including the support of family and friends to help you through your treatment.

Ask For and Get Help
A trusted family member or friend can help you organize your household chores and family activities. Accept help from those that can pitch in to take over your housework, meetings and other obligations.

Relaxation
Set aside time and determine a couple of different methods that will help you relax and reduce stress. This is a proven way to increase your strength and health for chemotherapy and improve your overall health outcome. Plan on using relaxation and stress reducing techniques throughout your treatment.

Stock Up
Gather everything you may need after your treatment, like clean clothes, food and beverages. Don’t forget medications and a thermometer that you can easily use and read on a daily basis.

 

Additional Guidance
A comprehensive guide to this procedure has been provided by the U.S. Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. You can download it free, here.