Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. The drugs often are called "anticancer" drugs.

Why is chemotherapy given to cancer patients?

  • To cure cancer
  • To keep the cancer from spreading
  • To slow the cancer's growth
  • To kill cancer cells which may have spread to other parts of the body from the original tumor
  • To relieve symptoms that may be caused by the cancer

Why are there side effects when someone receives chemotherapy?

Cancer cells grow and divide rapidly. Chemotherapy drugs are made to kill fast-growing cells. Certain healthy cells multiply quickly so the chemotherapy can affect these cells also. The fast-growing normal cells most likely to be affected are cells in the following areas:

  • Bone marrow
  • Digestive tract
  • Hair follicles
  • Reproductive system

What are the most common side effects of chemotherapy?

Because normal cells are affected during chemotherapy, there are certain side effects that are more common than others. These include:

  • Alopecia (hair loss)
  • Anemia (a decrease in the red blood cell count that can cause fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath)
  • Fatigue (most commonly reported side effect)
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or decreased appetite
  • Neutropenia (a decrease in the white blood cell count that increases your risk for infection)
  • Thrombocytopenia (a decrease in platelets that can cause bleeding and easy bruising)

Tips to help you through your chemotherapy treatment

We know that as a new patient you may have many questions about what to expect during treatment. We want to make things as easy as possible for you and your family. Listed below are a few tips to help you through your treatment.

  • If you are receiving chemotherapy, follow your regular meal schedule. Do not fast or skip meals. However, avoid eating heavy, greasy, fried or spicy foods for 24 hours before your treatment. You may eat and drink while receiving chemotherapy.
  • You may feel temperature changes, so we suggest you dress for this. A good idea is to dress in layers so that you can peel off clothing if you get too warm or add pieces if you feel chilled.
  • If at all possible, do not bring children to the clinic or treatment areas. To enter the chemotherapy area, one must be at least 14 years of age. This is for safety reasons. Sitting out in the waiting area can be a long and boring day for a child. If for some reason a child is brought to the center, you must provide adult supervision for them in the waiting room areas at all times!
  • Plan on being at the clinic/treatment area for at least three (3) hours. If your treatment is a long one, it may take 6-8 hours. There are many reasons why you may be here for longer periods than you expect. A few examples include waiting for lab results, having your infusion port placement checked, preparation and safety checks of chemotherapy medications, and infusion of fluids and medications. To decrease your stress level, we suggest that you do not make any important plans for after your treatment, such as picking up children from school, reporting for work, or getting picked up at an exact time. We hope that you are pleasantly surprised and can leave sooner than expected. Feel free to bring books, small projects, etc., to help you pass the time.
  • Make sure you have transportation home. We are not sure how you will react to any treatment you receive. It may not be safe for you to drive yourself home especially if you are given medications that cause drowsiness. Ask your doctor or nurse if you are receiving anything that can make you sleepy. If so, you will not be allowed to drive yourself home. Even the stress of receiving treatment can make it unsafe for you to drive. Always have a backup plan in place.
  • We suggest you bring an adult to stay with you during your treatment. The company of a family member or friend can help time pass more quickly. Having someone else with you can help you remember special instructions and information that is given to you. They can ask questions that you may not think of as well.

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