Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to fight cancer. It affects cells that grow quickly, like cancer cells, but it can also affect some of your normal cells. It may be used alone or with surgery and/or radiation.
How chemotherapy is given
It can be given in many ways.
- As a pill, by mouth
- Into a vein or artery
- As an injection just under the skin (sub-q) or into a muscle (IM)
- Into the abdominal cavity (intraperitoneal or IP)
- Into the spinal fluid
- Injected into the tumor
Chemotherapy travels throughout your body to fight cancer.
The nurse giving you your chemo will tell you which side effects are most often seen with the drugs you are getting. Some people have very few side effects. It is important to let your health care team know about any problems you are having. There are many things that can be done to help you.
Some of the normal cells that can be affected by chemo are listed below.
Normal cells affected by chemotherapy
Side effects that may occur
Lining of the mouth, stomach, and colon
Mouth and throat soreness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
Low blood counts - fatigue, increased risk for infection, bleeding
The side effects can depend on many factors.
- Your body and how you respond.
- The type of chemo you receive. Each drug has different side effects.
- How the drug is given and over what timeframe.
- Your overall health.
How long do the side effects last?
Some side effects may occur within the first 24-48 hours after your treatment and then resolve. Other side effects occur days after your treatment. Many people are able to work and maintain their normal routines.
There are three basic types of cells that make up your blood.
- Red cells – carry oxygen. When your red cell count is low, it is called anemia.
- White cells – fight infection. When your white cell count is low, it is called neutropenia.
- Platelets – help clot your blood. If your platelet count is low, it is called thrombocytopenia. When your platelet counts are low, you are more at risk for bleeding.
How often will I get my chemotherapy?
It is most often given on a regular cycle. The first day of your first treatment is cycle 1, day 1. Chemo is given on certain days during the cycle, such as day 1 and day 8. The first day of the second cycle is cycle 2, day 1. Your doctor will tell you on which days you will be getting your treatment. You may want to ask for a written schedule.
Changes in appetite
- You may notice changes in taste. Things may not taste quite right or have a metallic taste. These symptoms come and go. Sucking on hard candy may help.
- You will want to take advantage of the times you are hungry and eat during those times. Some people gain weight while on chemotherapy, while others lose weight. A dietitian can to discuss food options with you.
- Taste and appetite should return to normal after chemo is finished.
Some helpful hints
- Ask for a written schedule of when to take your anti-nausea medicine.
- Carbohydrates (pretzels, crackers, toast, pasta, or bagels) may help decrease nausea.
- On the day of your treatment, you may want to avoid your favorite foods and eat a milder diet.
- It is okay if you can not eat normally for a few days after your treatment. It is not okay if you can’t keep liquids down. You must call your health care provider if you are not able to drink.
- Avoid alcohol.
Sexuality and fertility
- Chemo can effect the production of sperm. Men may want to bank sperm before starting chemo.
- Women may go into early menopause and notice increased vaginal dryness. Lubricants may be used.
- You will need to use contraception during your treatment and for several months after the treatment is finished.
- If your platelets or white blood cells are low, you may need to avoid intercourse until those blood counts return to normal.
- Talk with your partner about how the treatment is affecting you. You may have changes in sexual desire during this time
Discuss any questions with your health care team.
During treatment and for a few months after treatment, you will be more sensitive to sunlight.
- Avoid direct sunlight as much as possible.
- Use a sun screen lotion of 30 or higher SPF.
- Wear a hat when outside, especially if you are losing your hair.
- Even people with darker skin tones need to take sun precautions.
For more information ask for Health Facts on these topics.
#4557-Neutropenia (Low White Blood Cells)
#4492-Anemia (Low Red Blood Cells)
#4493-Thrombocytopenia (Low Platelets)
If you have questions or concerns, please call:
Phone number _________________________
Your Doctor is ____________________________
Your Nurse is _____________________________
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 05/14/2012
Copyright © 05/14/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5070
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