Chemo slows down or stops the growth of cancer cells. Usually it recognizes and attacks cancer cells because those cells reproduce quickly. Unfortunately, there are some cells in your body that also reproduce quickly – for example, those that line the digestive tract or cause hair growth. That is why chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and other side effects. The good news is that, in many cases, the side effects get better or go away after chemotherapy is over.
Most people find that chemotherapy is not painful. However, some people find that the side effects of chemotherapy drugs can be physically and emotionally challenging. Please speak to the CIC nurses for help managing side effects.
How long a patient gets chemotherapy varies widely and depends on the type and stage of cancer, the goal of treatment, and other factors that might affect how a patient responds to the treatment. It may be given once a day, once a week, once a month, or more than one day in a row. It’s often given in cycles with breaks between treatments to give the body a chance to rest and heal.
There’s no way to know for sure. It depends on your overall health, the type of cancer you have, how far along it is, and the amount and type of chemotherapy drugs. Your genes may also play a part.
It’s common to feel ill or very tired after chemotherapy. You can prepare for this by getting someone to drive you back and forth from treatment. You should also plan to rest on the day of and the day after treatment. During this time, it may help to get some help with meals and child care, if necessary. /p>
It depends on the work that you do and on how you feel. On days you don’t feel well, you may want to see if you can work fewer hours or work from home. In some cases, employers are required by law to adjust your schedule when you have cancer treatment.
It is not good to skip a chemotherapy treatment. But sometimes your doctor or nurse may change your chemotherapy schedule. This can be due to side effects you are having. If this happens, your doctor or nurse will explain what to do and when to start treatment again.
It depends on the kind of cancer you have and how far along it is.
- Cure: In some cases, the treatment can destroy cancer cells to the point that your doctor can no longer detect them in your body. After that, the best outcome is that they never grow back again, but that doesn’t always happen.
- Control: In some cases, it may only be able to keep cancer from spreading to other parts of your body or slow the growth of cancer tumors.
- Ease symptoms: In some cases, chemotherapy can’t cure or control the spread of cancer and is simply used to shrink tumors that cause pain or pressure. These tumors often continue to grow back.
Exercise has been shown to be safe for people going through cancer treatment, and in fact can be one of the best ways to relieve some of the symptoms associated with your cancer or treatment.
Your medical oncologist will help find the right balance of maximizing therapy effectiveness while minimizing side effects, so you can integrate exercise into your life and stay as active as possible while in treatment. You’ll also work with a physical therapist who can create an exercise program that is safe for you throughout your cancer journey.
Not everyone receives the same type of chemotherapy. There are many drugs designed specifically to treat cancer. Your doctor will decide which drug(s), dose, and schedule are best for you. This decision is based on the following important factors:
- Type of cancer
- Location of cancer
- Stage of development of cancer
- How normal body functions are affected
- General health
- How chemotherapy affects your other medical conditions
The brain produces chemicals that affect how well our body fights disease. Through the mind-body connection, positive emotions and laughter send signals to the brain, which then produces chemicals that:
- Increase blood circulation
- Boost the immune system and help fight off infection
- Relax muscles, restore energy and lower stress
- Improve mood and better manage pain and stress
We mentioned earlier that chemotherapy works by destroying cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy cannot tell the difference between a cancer cell and a healthy cell. Therefore, chemotherapy can cause side effects.
Among the most common are nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, and low blood counts. Some side effects may be temporary and merely annoying. Others, however, can be life threatening. For example, one of the most serious potential side effects of chemotherapy is low white blood cell count – a condition called neutropenia (new-tro-pee-neeuh) – which can put you at risk for severe infection or treatment interruptions. In most cases, you can successfully manage side effects by working with your healthcare team and by staying in close communication throughout your treatment cycles.
Without receiving special anti-nausea medications, most patients will experience some nausea after treatment with chemotherapy. Nausea and vomiting may last 24-48 hours. The severity of nausea and vomiting mainly depends on which chemotherapy drugs were used. A number of very effective medications called anti-emetics or anti-nausea drugs are now available to help lessen or prevent nausea and vomiting. These medications may be given to you intravenously during your chemotherapy, or you may be given a prescription medication to take at home.
Hair loss occurs with some, but not all, chemotherapy drugs. The amount of hair loss varies from a slight thinning to complete baldness and affects the scalp, eyelashes and eyebrows, legs, armpits, and pubic area.
Hair loss will typically begin two or three weeks after your first treatment. The amount of hair that you lose will depend on the type of chemotherapy drug you are taking. Hair typically begins to grow back approximately 2-3 weeks after treatment is finished. The hair may grow back differently than it was before treatment.
It usually takes a few days for the body to get rid of the drugs after a round of chemo is given. During this time, wear disposable gloves when cleaning up any body fluids, including urine, stool, tears, and vomit, and then wash your hands with soap and water. If chemo is being taken by mouth, talk to the cancer care team about how to be careful when touching the pills.
It’s best to wash bed sheets and clothes in the washing machine separately from other clothes. Throw away adult diapers and sanitary pads by placing them in 2 plastic bags and throw them away with the regular trash. If you touch body fluids by mistake, wash your hands well with soap and water and ask the cancer care team for advice.
Taking care of someone getting chemo can be a stressful time. Studies show that caregivers often neglect their own health. Remember that as a caregiver you must take care of yourself in order to give good care. That means eating well, getting enough exercise, getting medical care including cancer screenings, and getting support when you need it.
Each person responds differently to treatment. Your doctor will monitor you closely and schedule appropriate tests to evaluate the effectiveness of your treatment. Your doctor may keep your treatment the same or adjust your treatment depending on the results of your tests.
How often you take chemotherapy depends on the type of cancer and which drug or combination of drugs you receive. Different drugs work at varying times in the process of cancer cell growth. Your treatment schedule will take all of these factors into consideration. Chemotherapy is usually structured in cycles with rest periods between. Generally, treatments are given daily, weekly, every other week, every third week, or monthly. Your doctor will help you determine the most effective treatment schedule for you.