What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs for treating cancer. Before your treatment begins, you will have certain tests to assess your condition and determine which chemotherapy drugs are best for you. The tests may include chest X-rays, blood or urine tests, CT scans or an EKG (electrocardiogram).
Your doctor and nurse will explain the chemotherapy procedure to you. Chemotherapy is given in cycles. This gives your body a chance to build healthy new cells and regain its strength. The number of treatments and how often you receive them depends on the kind of cancer you have, the goals of the treatment, the drugs used and your body’s response to them. You may get chemotherapy every day, every week or every month.

Types of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy varies, depending on the type of cancer you have and the drug(s) you receive. You may get treatment in one or more of the following ways: Orally (by mouth in pill or liquid form) Topically (applied to the skin) Intramuscularly (injected into a muscle) Subcutaneously (injected under the skin) or Intravenously (injected into a vein).

Chemotherapy by mouth, on the skin or by injection feels the same as taking other medications by these methods. Intravenous chemotherapy feels like having blood drawn for a lab test, but the needle stays in place longer. Chemotherapy also may be delivered to specific areas within the body by a tube called a catheter. The catheter can be placed into the spine, abdomen, bladder or liver.

You may get your chemotherapy as an outpatient in the Infusion Room of our Outpatient Department, during a Hospital stay or at home. The decision about where you receive your chemotherapy depends on which drug or drugs you are getting.

Receiving Your Treatment

Treatments such as infusion therapy, blood transfusions, injections, or central line care require a scheduled appointment.

The doctor and pharmacy take special precautions to mix and dispense the correct medications specially targeted to the type of cancer you have. The pharmacy will not mix or dispense any medications until a doctor has given their approval to proceed and the patient is actually present in the appropriate treatment area. It takes, per patient, 60-90 minutes from the time the pharmacy receives the doctor’s order until the pharmacy hands the medication to the nurse to give.

Please be sure to include in your schedule the time needed to get pre-medications / fluids as well as the time needed for your post treatment care. These all add to your total length of treatment and to the total time you will spend in the infusion center. For example, what your doctor describes as a “three hour” chemotherapy visit may actually take five-six hours by the time the pharmacy gets the orders, mixes the medication, dispenses it, pre-medications including the “wait time” for them to take effect are given, the medicine is actually infused, and post treatment fluids are given.

Throughout your treatment, registered nurses are available to help with any questions or concerns. Before starting treatment, your doctor or nurse should provide you with written information about what to drugs you will get, the length of your treatment and the most common side effects. When each treatment is over, be sure to schedule your next appointment with the infusion center before leaving the cancer center. Don’t forget to ask your doctor if it is okay for you to drive yourself to and from your treatments.

The treatment area provides a limited assortment of refreshments. For treatments scheduled through lunch or over an extended period, you can bring your own meal or you could have a friend/family member purchase meal(s) from one of our two cafeterias.

Side Effects

Chemotherapy drugs are made to kill fast-growing cancer cells. But certain normal, healthy cells also multiply quickly. Chemotherapy affects these cells as well. When it does, side effects occur. Some of the more common side effects include nausea, vomiting, temporary hair loss, fatigue and loss of some blood cells. Your doctor and nurse will explain the specific side effects of your chemotherapy before you begin treatment. Then you will be asked to sign a consent form saying you understand the possible effects of your treatment. Your doctor and nurse can give you tips on managing the side effects, so remember to tell them if you have any.

Daily Activities

Eating well is important while you are undergoing treatment. Better nutrition helps you cope with side effects and fight infection more easily. If you lose your appetite, your doctor, dietitian or nurse can help you with hints about eating. Most people are able to continue working while they are being treated with chemotherapy. If the treatment makes you tired, you might consider adjusting your work schedule for awhile. Federal law requires many employers to accommodate for treatment needs.

Monitoring Your Progress

Throughout your treatment, you will have periodic physician exams, blood tests, scans and X-rays to measure how well your treatments are working. Don’t hesitate to ask the doctor about the test results and what they show about your progress.