Managing Chemotherapy Treatment

You may receive chemotherapy during a hospital stay, at home, or as an outpatient at your doctor’s office, clinic or hospital. Outpatient means you do not stay overnight. Treatment schedules for chemotherapy vary widely.

Patient receiving chemotherapy

How often and how long you get chemotherapy depends on:

  • Your type of cancer and how advanced it is.
  • Whether chemotherapy is used to cure your cancer, control its growth or ease symptoms.
  • The type of chemotherapy you are getting.
  • How your body responds to the chemotherapy.

You may receive chemotherapy in cycles. A cycle is a period of chemotherapy treatment followed by a period of rest. For instance, you might receive chemotherapy every day for 1 week followed by 3 weeks with no chemotherapy. These 4 weeks make up one cycle. The rest period gives your body a chance to recover and build new healthy cells.

Missing a Treatment

It is best not to skip a chemotherapy treatment. But, sometimes your doctor may change your chemotherapy schedule if you are having certain side effects. If this happens, your doctor or nurse will explain what to do and when to start treatment again.

How Will I Know If My Chemotherapy Is Working?

You will see your doctor often. During these visits, she will ask you how you feel, do a physical exam, and order medical tests and scans. Tests might include blood tests. Scans might include MRI, CT or PET scans.

You cannot tell if chemotherapy is working based on its side effects. Some people think that severe side effects mean that chemotherapy is working well, or that no side effects mean that chemotherapy is not working. The truth is that side effects have nothing to do with how well chemotherapy is fighting your cancer.

Working During Chemotherapy

Many people can work during chemotherapy, as long as they match their work schedule to how they feel. Whether or not you can work may depend on what kind of job you have. If your job allows, you may want to see if you can work part-time or from home on days you do not feel well.

Many employers are required by law to change your work schedule to meet your needs during cancer treatment. Talk with your employer about ways to adjust your work during chemotherapy. You can learn more about these laws by talking with a social worker.

Special Diet Needs

Chemotherapy can damage the healthy cells that line your mouth and intestines and cause eating problems. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have trouble eating while you are receiving chemotherapy. You might also find it helpful to speak with an oncology dietitian at Hollings Cancer Center.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy not only kills fast-growing cancer cells, but also kills or slows the growth of healthy cells that grow and divide quickly. Examples are cells that line your mouth and intestines and those that cause your hair to grow. Damage to healthy cells may cause side effects, such as mouth sores, nausea and hair loss. Side effects often get better or go away after you have finished chemotherapy. The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type of chemotherapy and the amount given. Anticipating and managing side effects can help to minimize them and provide the best possible experience for the person receiving chemotherapy.

The most common side effect is fatigue, which is feeling exhausted and worn out. You can prepare for fatigue by:

  • Asking someone to drive you to and from chemotherapy.
  • Planning time to rest on the day of and day after chemotherapy.
  • Asking for help with meals and childcare on the day of and at least one day after chemotherapy.

Since everyone is different and people respond to chemotherapy in different ways, your doctor and nurses cannot know for sure how you will feel during chemotherapy.

Learn more about chemotherapy treatment at Hollings 

This content was provided by the National Cancer Institute. For more information, please visit www.cancer.gov.

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