How Chemotherapy Works

Chemotherapy: How It Works and What to Expect

Most chemotherapy patients receive their treatment as outpatients, coming to the Cancer Center for treatment and returning home each day. Most often, the treatment is administered intravenously, though there are other methods.

Your first visit is for an exam and planning.  When you come to the Cancer Center reception area in Medical Tower II, your first step is to sign in at the reception desk. You'll be asked to complete information forms that will help us assist you with financial or emotional concerns. Then, you'll be called to come to the registration desk to speak with one of our registrars.

Once you're registered, you'll be asked to again wait to be called. Waiting periods may vary and are determined by the progress of treatment of patients preceding you.

When you are called again, it will be to see a phlebotomist, who will draw blood for lab tests. You will be asked to wait a short period while the lab tests are completed, then your next stop is an exam room to talk with a doctor, who will have reviewed your lab tests and chart. The doctor will examine you and discuss your individual situation and your treatment options. Then, you and your doctor can decide on a specific treatment plan.

Prior to your first treatment appointment, don't break your normal routine.  It's all right to eat normally and take any other medicine you may already be taking. The procedure on arriving for first treatment is similar to your first visit. Once you've signed in at the reception desk, you will be called to go back to the chemo treatment room.

It may or may not be necessary to draw blood for more lab tests, and there will be a wait while the lab results are processed, for doctor approval and for the pharmacy to mix your medicine.

After a few visits, you'll soon learn that there is almost always some waiting involved, and for good reason. Each and every step of the process, from lab tests to custom mixing of each patient's individual medicine, is checked and checked again by doctors, pharmacists and certified nurses.

Once your medicine is mixed and triple-checked, a nurse will review it with you and provide detailed information on what to do during treatment and advise you of possible side effects.

Here are some additional things to remember about chemotherapy treatment:

  • Have someone bring you for your first treatment appointment.
  • For all treatment appointments, you are encouraged to bring one additional
    adult caregiver or visitor with you each time you come. However, children are
    not permitted in the treatment areas.
  • In addition to cancer-fighting medicines, you may also receive intravenous fluids
    and anti-nausea medicine, which is very effective in minimizing side effects.
  • The treatment time can vary from 30 minutes to several hours.
  • Treatment can be daily, three times a week or as little as once a month.
    The duration of treatment will vary according to the type of cancer and treatment
  • The Cancer Center participates in clinical trials of new procedures and
    medicines, and is one of the few hospitals offering stem cell
    transplant/high-dose chemotherapy.

You are never far from help when you need it, and you should never hesitate to ask. You will be provided a toll-free number you can call for assistance 24 hours a day. Even during off hours, the answering service can notify a doctor who is on call to address patient needs.

Diagnostic tests will constantly monitor your progress, and though your doctor and nurse will be very attentive to your needs, your input is important. They will provide a list of things to watch for and report. Do not ignore these. They are very important. When in doubt, call.

Likewise, if you have any questions about your condition or treatment, don't hesitate to ask. The only bad question is the one not asked. When questions occur to you away from the hospital, write them down to remind you to ask them later.

At the conclusion of your treatment, you will continue to see a doctor periodically. It's important to maintain these visits so we can monitor your condition.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 1-800-490-0684.

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