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Chemotherapy Frequently Asked Questions

Many of our most frequently asked questions and answers can provide you with more detailed information about chemotherapy.

Q: How do I address concerns about my diagnosis and chemotherapy?

Learning that you have cancer can be very emotionally upsetting – not only to you, but also to your family and friends. It is important to seek emotional support. Always talk with your Texas Oncology care team about your feelings and concerns, and ask for resources that may support your emotional well-being. In addition, your local American Cancer Society chapter offers free programs for those diagnosed with cancer. Other local support groups may provide the opportunity for you and your loved ones to talk with others who understand what you are experiencing. Talk openly about your needs. Supporting each other will help all of you keep a positive outlook.

Q: How do I know my chemotherapy is working?

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.

Q: How does chemotherapy work?

Chemotherapy is designed to destroy cancer cells. Some cancer cells grow slowly, others rapidly. As a result, different types of chemotherapy drugs are designed to target the growth patterns of specific types of cancer cells. Each drug has a different way of working and is effective at a specific time in the life cycle of the cell targets.

Your doctor will develop a treatment plan specifically for you, based on your type of cancer, its stage of advancement, and your overall health. Depending on your individual condition, your chemotherapy may be designed to achieve one or more of three goals:

  • Eliminate the cancer
  • Control the cancer
  • Symptom relief

Q: How is chemotherapy administered?

Your doctor will choose the chemotherapy method that will be most effective against your particular type of cancer and cause the fewest side effects. You may receive chemotherapy drugs in one or more of the following ways:

  • Pill (also referred to as “oral” or PO [per os] medication)
  • Shot (injection)
  • IV (also known as “intravenous” – delivering liquid medicine through a tube into a vein)

Some types of chemotherapy can be given at home. Through instruction, you and your family members can learn how to administer chemotherapy in pill form or by injection with a small syringe and needle similar to those people with diabetes use to administer insulin. In some cases, a nurse will administer chemotherapy in our clinic. In other situations, it may be necessary to go to the hospital to receive treatment.

Q: How often will I take chemotherapy?

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.

Q: What are the chemotherapy side effects?

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.

Remember, when you experience side effects, it is important to contact Texas Oncology first before going to an emergency room or urgent care clinic.

Q: What questions should I ask about my chemotherapy treatment?

Gather all the information you can to make informed decisions about your cancer treatment and about how to protect yourself against possible side effects. Your Texas Oncology care team is always your best source of information. Talk with them about your chemotherapy, possible risks, and your best protection. Take notes to help you remember questions you want to ask. Questions to ask might include:

  • What are my treatment options? Which do you consider the best for my condition?
  • What are the names and doses of all the drugs I will be taking?
  • Is the goal of my chemotherapy to get rid of my cancer or to control it for as long as possible?
  • What personal goal should I have: Eliminating my cancer? Controlling my cancer? Being comfortable?
  • How long will I receive chemotherapy? How often? Where?
  • How will my chemotherapy be administered?
  • How will I know if my chemotherapy is working?
  • How might a disruption in my chemotherapy dose or schedule affect my results?
  • Can I talk with other patients who have received the treatment you recommend?

Also, be sure to discuss the possible side effects of your chemotherapy by addressing questions such as the following:

  • What possible side effects should I prepare for?
  • When might side effects start?
  • Will side effects get better or worse as my treatment goes along?
  • How can I lessen the impact of side effects?
  • Are any treatments available to help relieve the side effects?
  • Which side effects are most serious?
  • How can I best monitor myself for side effects or complications related to my disease or chemotherapy?

Q: Which chemotherapy drugs will I receive?

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