Chemotherapy / Biotherapy
Because there are many types of cancer, one or more drugs in a variety of combinations may be used to treat your particular type. This treatment is called chemotherapy. Chemotherapy works to keep cancer cells from multiplying and is sometimes given in addition to radiation and surgery.
Your physician will order medications that are effective in treating your particular cancer. The choice of medications will depend on the type and location of the cancer, the stage of the cancer, and the effectiveness of the medication.
Chemotherapy may be given by mouth or IV (intravenously). It may be ordered daily, weekly, or monthly. Sometimes treatment is given over longer intervals that include breaks from treatment to give your body a chance to recover. The length of time your physician needs to keep you on chemotherapy may vary from several months to years. The treatment schedule is aimed specifically at what you need for your type of cancer.
You may receive your treatment at St. Luke's MSTI, at the hospital, or at home. The location of your treatment will depend on the type of medication you receive.
To make chemotherapy easier to tolerate:
- Eat a well-balanced diet; ask for a nutritional consult if you need to.
- Maintain a positive attitude.
- Find out as much as possible about your disease and how it is treated. Increasing your knowledge can lessen the uncertainty and fear you may be experiencing.
- Limit your activities if you are tired.
- Look for new ways to deal with your illness. Meditation, relaxation, or exercise may be helpful. Ask about our Intergrative Medicine program.
- Set realistic goals.
- Try new hobbies and learn new skills.
- Exercise to promote self-esteem, relieve anger or tension, and improve appetite.
- Eat a light meal one hour before chemotherapy treatments.
- Avoid big meals on the day you receive chemotherapy; eat frequent light meals throughout the day.
- Take the prescribed anti-nausea medicine.
Frequently Asked Questions About Chemotherapy
Are there any medications I should not take while on chemotherapy?
Do not take any medicine that has not been prescribed by your physician. Do not use aspirin or any products containing aspirin such as Bufferin, Anacin, cold capsules, etc., unless advised by your physician. If your pain is mild, use acetaminophen, which can be purchased at any drugstore without a prescription. Let your physician know if your pain worsens.
Can I drink alcohol while taking chemotherapy?
Ask your physician.
Can I smoke?
Smoking may cause respiratory problems and should be avoided. Ask your physician or nurse if you need help quitting.
Should I avoid people with colds and flu?
Avoid contact with people with an infection or virus such as a cold or flu. Take special care to avoid people with active chicken pox since this can develop into a serious infection in chemotherapy patients.
How long will I receive chemotherapy?
Each case is different. Chemotherapy is given until the full effect on the cancer is seen. Chemotherapy treatments may last for several weeks, several months, or several years.
Should I do anything differently while taking chemotherapy? Will I need more rest or a special diet?
The best thing you can do is use common sense. When you become tired, you should rest. Many patients on chemotherapy continue their usual jobs without problems. Try to maintain an ideal body weight and eat foods you like. Your nurse or physician will tell you if you need to follow a special diet.
Should I take shots or vitamins?
If you are eating regular meals, you may not need vitamins. It is okay to take most vitamins – check with your physician first. You should ask your physician for his or her advice.
Will chemotherapy make me sterile?
Some patients, male and female, do become sterile from chemotherapy; others do not. Whether or not you become sterile depends on your age, the type of tumor, the type of drug, and the dose you receive. If you become sterile, it may be permanent or temporary. Normal reproductive function has returned in some patients who received chemotherapy. Others have remained sterile. Talk with your physician about options, such as sperm banking.
Should I avoid sexual intercourse while on chemotherapy?
There is no medical reason to avoid sexual intercourse while you are receiving chemotherapy unless you have a very low white blood count or low platelets.
Can I get pregnant while on chemotherapy?
Pregnancy should be avoided, but you can still get pregnant even while you are getting chemotherapy. It is recommended that both male and female patients receiving chemotherapy avoid pregnancy by using birth control during sexual intercourse. Chemotherapy can cause damage to the fetus, leading to serious congenital abnormalities. Patients should discuss birth control with their physician and nurses. If you are a woman and your menstrual period stops, tell your physician.
How soon after chemotherapy ends can I try to have children?
Each situation is different. It is best to discuss this with your physician.
Can I have my teeth fixed while taking chemotherapy?
Your dentist should speak to your physician before doing any work on your teeth and gums. Try to avoid any dental work while your white blood cell count is low from a previous chemotherapy treatment. When your white blood cell count is normal, it is OK to have dental work.
Will I receive combinations of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy?
The type of treatment you receive will depend on your situation. Your physician will consider the most advanced, up-to-date therapy for your diagnosis. If surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or biotherapy is necessary, your physician will consult experts in these areas. Ask your physician if you have any questions about possible treatments.