12 Things People Need to Know about Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is commonly prescribed as a cancer treatment, but the therapy is associated with many adverse reactions, especially in fragile patients. Before undergoing the treatment, newly diagnosed cancer patients tend to ask multiple questions such as does chemo hurt? Are hair loss and vomiting systematic? Is the therapy going to heal the tumor? Below are the answers for these questions and others.

1) How Chemotherapy Is Administered? 

The drugs can be taken orally or by infusion. The method chosen by your oncologist depends on the type of cancer, stage, general health status, and, whenever is possible, your wish.

Oral chemotherapy tends to come in the form of tablets, pills or capsules. Taking chemo by mouth is just as strong as other forms, and provides the same health benefits.

In Intravenous chemotherapy, however, the treatment is given into a vein. In most cases, an implanted port is used. The port is placed under the skin to allow intravenous (I.V.) access for not only the chemotherapy drugs but also other medications and transfusion if necessary. The infusion can take several minutes to several hours to finish.

2)  Is Chemotherapy Administered in Hospital or at Home? 

It depends on the cytotoxic agents used type of treatment implemented. In general, oral treatments are taken at home with regular follow-up consultation. Infusion takes place in hospital. In certain cancers, such as colon cancer, the administration of the medications tends to be recommended intravenously and continuously for 48 hours. Therefore, hospital stay is most of the times required

When chemotherapy sessions take place in hospital, it sometimes does not require hospitalization. In case of hospitalization, a week of hospitalization is required every month. The duration of the treatment can last several months depending tumor being treated and the goal of the therapy: curative, palliative…. The session can last a few minutes to several hours, and then the patient goes home.

3) Does cancer chemotherapy hurt?       

The administration of the chemotherapy in itself is completely painless. However, you may experience pain and redness in the injection site. In addition, certain chemo agents can cause toxicity on nerve endings which can lead to tingling, altered sensitivity, pain in joints, muscles aches which resemble flu symptoms.  The good news is that there are medications to stop these problems. Talk to you doctor for painkillers and/or other therapies that may help if you experience any of these chemotherapy side effects.

4) Are Nausea and Vomiting Systematic? 

Not all antineoplastic drugs cause these adverse reactions. Some anticancer drugs cause more nausea than others, including those used against breast cancer. In addition, the side effects of chemotherapy vary from person to person. Lifestyle, including diet can reduce the risk chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting (CINV). Certain foods such as ginger and medical marijuana can greatly help. Chemotherapy nausea tends to be worsening by eating fatty foods.  In addition to avoid chemotherapy vomiting, avoid eating lot of foods in a single meal.

5) Will I Be Able to Eat? 

In most cases the answer is yes. Although chemotherapy can alter the taste and thus reduce appetite, it is important for cancer patients to continue eating a healthy and balanced diet in order to maintain a healthy weight and a strong immune system. Choose foods that you enjoy and have pleasure eating. It is also very important to avoid unhealthy foods which help the cancer cells proliferate or increase the severity of the chemotherapy side effects: refined sugar, unhealthy fats, refined flower…

6) Is Hair Loss Inevitable? 

No, not necessarily; it depends on the type of chemo agents you are given. For example, some chemotherapy medications used in the treatment of lung cancer usually cause alopecia, while others do not. The good news in all cases, chemotherapy hair loss is almost always reversible. The hair usually grows back right after the treatment is complete.

7) Is there a Chemotherapy Induced Hair Loss Treatment? 

Although you can limit the loss of your hair, there is no real treatment for chemotherapy hair loss. But in cases where hair loss is limited, cooling helmets may be useful in limiting, by vasoconstriction, the effects of the chemo in the blood vessels in which the hair bulb is formed. However, when the alopecia is total there is no real treatment for it until the therapy is complete. On the internet, you can find people claim to have products which can be used as “chemotherapy hair loss prevention”, but there is no proof they really work.

8) What Are the Chemotherapy Skin Side Effects? 

Skin problems during chemotherapy are common. The damages of the anticancer drugs on the skin vary from one medication to another and one patient to another.  However, dry skin is generally experienced by all patients during the treatment, either mild or serious.  Some targeted therapies also have specific toxicities and can cause serious skin rash on face that resembles to acne. Please see chemotherapy skin side effects for additional information.

9) How to Protect Your Skin? 

It is important to feed your skin with natural and non-irritant creams and moisturizing masks which will keep your skin hydrated. As with all other side effects, there is no unique treatment for every patient; therefore, dialogue with your health care provider for advice. If you are using any form of chemotherapy skin cream, it is extremely not recommended for you to just use any moisturizer on your face, which may interact with the drug.  It is advisable to avoid the sun during chemotherapy. For additional info, please visit our skin care during chemo section.

10) Is Chemotherapy Related Tiredness Unavoidable?  

Chemo-related fatigue and tiredness may develop from the first session of the therapy and worsen overtime as other side effects accumulate. But they can be managed by eating healthy foods and take regular rest. In addition, chemotherapy tiredness is not a reason to discontinue physical or professional activities. As long as it is safe, patients can continue to work if it helps through the ordeal of the disease. Minor exercise, such as fast walking, can even alleviate the chemotherapy fatigue by boosting the immune system and make you feel better.

11) Does Chemotherapy Put Patients at Risk for Infection? 

During cancer treatment with chemo, you are more fragile against infections. The drugs cause a decrease in white blood cells, which are our natural defense, making it more susceptible to infections. This is why the therapy is given in cycles, with blood tests and rest periods in between, to allow the immune system to recuperate and control the effects of the treatment on the body.  While it is important to continue leaving a normal life, to avoid infections, it is recommended to avoid contact with infected people and regularly check for fever, skin rash…

12) What Are the Effects of Cytotoxic Drugs on the Mucous Membranes? 

Chemotherapy also damages the cells of the mucous membranes. This is mainly those located in the mouth, leading to development of canker sores and other; the cells lining the digestive system, causing diarrhea, constipation… Diarrhea during chemo should be neglected; you need to talk to your health care provider immediately if you experience any form of persistent diarrhea due to chemotherapy.

Leave a Reply