What to Expect During Chemotherapy

Man sitting in a hospital chair receiving a chemo infusion discussing What to Expect During Chemotherapy

What to Expect During Chemotherapy

Wondering what to expect during chemotherapy? You are not alone. Preparing for your first chemotherapy appointment can be stressful and overwhelming. It is a new experience, and you may be wondering about the procedure itself and its side effects. It can be challenging, but you don’t have to worry about going into this experience alone. This article can shed some light on what to expect during your chemotherapy appointment and what to do after.

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses one or more drugs to kill fast-growing cells like cancer cells in your body. Unlike radiation or surgery, chemotherapy can work through your entire body.

The effects of chemotherapy depend on the kind of cancer you have and on its progression. In some cases, chemotherapy can destroy the cancer cells and make them undetectable by tests. The hope is that these cancer cells will not grow back in the future.

In other instances, chemotherapy can prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of your body. Chemotherapy can also shrink the size of tumors to provide pain relief and ease symptoms.

How is Chemotherapy Used?

While chemotherapy can be used alone to treat cancer, it is usually paired with another type of treatment like surgery, radiation therapy, or immunotherapy. Here are the most common ways in which chemotherapy is used:

  • Chemotherapy can make cancerous tumors smaller before surgery. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy can help destroy cancer cells left over from surgery or radiation therapy. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy can assist with other treatments like radiation therapy and immunotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy can destroy cancerous cells that have come back (recurrent cancer) or spread to other parts of the body (metastatic cancer).

What to Expect During Chemotherapy Treatment

Chemotherapy can be administered through a needle placed into a vein (intravenous chemotherapy). It can also be taken in pill form (oral chemotherapy). Another way to deliver chemo to the body is through a medication that is put on your skin. This is called topical chemotherapy.

When you show up for your first IV chemotherapy appointment, you will first get your blood taken and meet with your oncologist to discuss the results. You will also meet the nurse who will be administering your chemotherapy.

Next, you will have a short physical exam and have your blood pressure, pulse, breathing, and temperature checked. Your height and weight will be measured to administer the correct dose of chemotherapy. You will then have an IV tube put in your arm.

You can bring a friend or a family member to your appointment for support (check the COVID protocols first to find out the current rules regarding visitors). You can also bring your phone, a book, a blanket, and anything else that would make you comfortable. Chemotherapy infusions can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.

If your oncology team decides that you need to receive chemotherapy through a port, you may have a minor surgery prior to your appointment. Your doctor will insert a round metal or plastic disc into the skin on your right side of the chest. Chemotherapy will be administered through this port.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Chemotherapy is used to kill fast-growing cells like cancer cells, but it also kills some healthy fast-growing cells like the ones that are lining your mouth and intestines, cells in the bone marrow that make blood cells, and cells that make your hair grow. When chemotherapy harms these healthy cells, you may experience some unpleasant side effects.

Some common side effects of chemotherapy include fatigue, vomiting, nausea, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, mouth sores, and pain. The length of these side effects will depend on your overall health and the type of chemotherapy you are receiving. Most side effects stop once chemotherapy is stopped, although some may last longer.

Some patients experience no side effects at all, while some experience a few, and others experience all of them. You can always talk to your oncologist beforehand to discuss which side effects you may experience.

Post Chemotherapy Care

After you’ve completed your first chemotherapy treatment, there are things you can do at home to help yourself recover and minimize side effects. Getting plenty of rest, eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding alcohol, staying away from people who have infections, and frequently washing your hands are some of the measures you can take after your chemotherapy appointment. Your oncology team at Alabama Cancer Care is always here to help you develop personalized chemotherapy treatment and post-care plans.

Alabama Cancer Care is Here to Help!

Embarking on your first chemotherapy treatment can be daunting, but knowing what to expect during chemotherapy treatment can make it a little easier. Alabama Cancer Care is always here to help.

For more information regarding chemotherapy treatments, call us in Anniston at (256) 847-3369, Ft. Payne at (256) 845-3500, Gadsden at (256) 547-0536, Montgomery at (334) 273-8877, and Sylacauga at (256) 245-0297.