Frequently Asked Questions from Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy

Will I be able to work during chemotherapy?


Many patients are able to continue working during chemotherapy. It will depend on the type of work you do and your overall health and response to the chemotherapy.


Please discuss working during chemotherapy with your medical oncology doctor. We also recommend that you discuss this with someone in the Human Resources Department where you work.


Can I drive myself to and from treatment?


Sometimes. It will depend on the kind of chemotherapy you are getting that day, and whether it is the first time you are getting that treatment. Some of the drugs we give along with chemotherapy can make patients quite sleepy. In general, we discourage patients from driving alone the first time they get a new chemotherapy.


Please discuss this with your medical oncology doctor and nurses.


Will I lose my hair?


Hair loss (alopecia) occurs with many chemotherapy regimens. If you need to have chemotherapy, talk with your medical oncology doctor about the specific drugs you will receive and what to expect.


Does UW Carbone Cancer Center offer scalp cooling?


Yes. One of the difficult side effects of chemotherapy is hair loss. Cooling caps, also called scalp hypothermia, are silicone caps cooled to very low temperatures that you wear before, during and after a chemotherapy treatment to help reduce or prevent this hair loss. Cooling cap systems are FDA approved in women with breast cancer. Learn more


Can I exercise during chemotherapy?


Yes. As treatments progress, you may have difficulty performing some types of vigorous exercise due to fatigue. However, we encourage you to remain as physically active as you can during chemotherapy.


Can I have sex during chemotherapy?


Yes; however, we recommend that you discuss with your medical oncology doctor or nurses when it is safest to have sex. Also, women may experience vaginal dryness from chemotherapy and may need to use vaginal lubricants to enjoy intercourse.


Can I smoke during chemotherapy?


Quitting smoking is a hard thing to do. Please tell your medical oncology doctor or primary care provider if you would like help quitting.


Can I drink alcohol during chemotherapy?


Most patients do not feel like drinking alcohol during chemotherapy. We suggest discussing this specifically with the medical oncology doctor treating you, but alcohol in moderation (i.e. no more than a small glass of beer or wine every few days) should not affect your chemotherapy.


We prefer that you do not drink in the one or two days before getting your labs drawn as even 1-2 drinks can alter liver function tests.


Can I go out in the sun during chemotherapy?


Some chemotherapies can make your skin sensitive to the sun, and we recommend wearing long-sleeved tops and pants for the most part.


Will chemotherapy affect my ability to have children?


Some forms of chemotherapy and endocrine therapy can affect your ability to have children. Read more about preserving fertility, if this is a concern for you.


Do I need a special diet during or after my treatment?


We encourage women to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet during and after treatment.


What are the side effects of chemotherapy?


You may hear stories about the side effects of chemotherapy from well-meaning friends and relatives, or you may have seen scary television shows or movies about chemotherapy. However, research is continually improving the way we give chemotherapy and manage the side effects, making it more effective and easier to tolerate.


Many side effects of chemotherapy occur because chemotherapies also kill some normal but fast-growing cells in the body. The specific side effects you may experience will be discussed with you when your treatment plan is made. However, common side effects of breast cancer chemotherapies include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting (generally able to be prevented with medications)
  • Low white blood cell counts, which increases the chances of infection
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss

It is very important to discuss your side effects and concerns with your medical oncology doctor and nurses. They are experts in managing these symptoms.