Chemotherapy uses powerful chemicals to kill cancer cells in your body and is an effective way to treat many kinds of cancer. However, because of the therapy’s aggressive nature it is not without side effects.
There are many different chemotherapy drugs available and your Missouri Cancer Associates physician will work with you to decide the best method of treatment. As always, our medical team is here for you. If you have any concerns regarding chemotherapy treatment, please ask your doctor.
What to Expect
At Missouri Cancer Associates, we understand the fear and anxiety as a result of being diagnosed. Our goal is to educate you about your treatment and provide you with the best care possible. We encourage you to discuss with your physician or nurse any side effects or changes you notice after you begin your therapy. This includes both physical and emotional issues.
Prior to initiating your chemotherapy treatment, your physician will determine a specific plan of care appropriate for your disease. Once your treatment plan has been determined, we verify insurance coverage with your insurance company and schedule an appointment for your to learn about your treatment. This appointment may be with our Nurse Practitioner or with a member of our nursing staff. We encourage you to bring anyone that will involved in your care to this appointment. We hope that this will help decrease question and anxiety that others participating in your care have regarding side effects and treatment schedules. We ask that have a driver for your first appointment if possible. If you will be driving yourself to your treatment appointments, please inform your physician or nurse.
You will be cared for by our Oncology nurses with specialized experience in caring for cancer patients.. They will assess how you are doing prior to and during treatment and will help you cope with the changes you may experience. They will provide support and assist with managing any side effects you experience during your treatment.
While receiving treatment, there are a number of things that will be available to you, including:
- free WiFi
- reading materials
- tablets at each chair (each with education, relaxation and entertainment options)
We have warm blankets available but we encourage you to dress in layers given the room temperature may fluctuate depending upon time of the year and number of people in the room at any given time.
Even with advancements in medicine and technology, side effects are a reality for many patients. Learn more about the management of your treatment symptoms by talking to your doctor. Some side effects of treatment are:
- Bowel Management: Cancer treatments and therapies may have an impact on the bowels functionality. Treatment could result in diarrhea, constipation or other bowel conditions.
- Chemo Brain (Cognitive Dysfunction): Some patients experience a difficulty in processing information. If you are experience changes in your thinking, please discuss with your physician immediately. This side effect is usually not permanent, but each patient is different. Symptoms include: Difficulty concentrating on a single task, problems with short-term memory, forgetting details of recent events, feeling mentally ‘slower’ than usual, confusing dates and appointments, misplacing objects, fumbling for the words or phrases
- Diabetes Management: Pancreas, liver, colorectal cancers may lead to an increased risk of Type I and Type II diabetes. However, cancer treatments do not cause diabetes. While receiving treatment, high blood sugar must be managed.
- Fatigue: The most common symptom reported by cancer patients is fatigue.
- Hair Loss: Another common side effect of chemotherapy is hair loss. Because the treatment cannot differentiate between cancer cells and fast-growing cells, patients receiving chemotherapy drugs may lose hair all over the body.
- Heart Health: Anthracycline (including: doxorubicin, epirubicin, idrarubicin and daunorubicin) chemotherapy drugs could weaken the heart muscle.
- Infections: Chemotherapy or radiation patients have an increased risk of infection with the most common being fever. Other symptoms include: chills, sweats, cough, mucous production, shortness of breath, painful breathing, mouth soreness/swelling, mouth ulcers or white patches, change in color of the gums, pain or burning during urination, urine odor, redness/pain or swelling of any area of your skin, sensitivity/swelling or pain around tubes, pus and/or drainage from open cut or sore
- Lymphedema: Lymphedema is a collection of protein fluid causing swelling usually in the arm or leg. The protein can be difficult to treat and is often a result of surgery, radiation, infection or trauma. Some treatment options are: skin care, massage, exercise, bandaging, compression garments and medicine. However, please consult with your physician before using any of these options.
- Managing Medications: Managing medications can become quite the task. Some patients are required to take up to 20 pills a day and organizing dosage can be a problem. Our physicians are happy to work with you and create a plan to make sure your medications on time and at the right volume.
- Nausea: Unfortunately, one of the side effects of chemotherapy drugs and radiation is nausea. This can be a frustrating part of the process and have an impact on a patient’s quality of life. However, there have been several advances in treatment and medications are now available to help curve an upset stomach. Your health is priority, please talk to your doctor about medication options if you’re experiencing nausea during treatment.
- Neuropathy: While receiving treatment, some patients may experience damage to the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system includes any nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. This condition is called peripheral neuropathy and may result in tingling, burning, weakness or numbness in the hands and/or feet.
- Nutrition: Making your health priority during treatment is especially important. Balancing good nutrition will help your body heal, fight infection and maintain your overall health. Creating a meal plan with appropriate protein, calories, fluids, vitamins and minerals is key. However, some side effects of cancer and treatment effect how you taste, swallow or chew and can alter how your body uses food. Please discuss nutrition options with your doctor and create a plan to manage your diet and appetite while receiving treatment.
- Oral Care: Chemotherapy drugs can cause sores or ulcers in the mouth and throat. These sores can become infected and cause other issues like dryness, irritation or bleeding. It is vitally important to be mindful of oral hygiene and to tell your physician if you are experiencing any symptoms. Tip: Before beginning treatment, meet with your dentist to manage any cavities, abscesses, gum disease or badly fitting dentures. This preventative appointment will help avoid issues in the future.
- Pain Management: Similar to treatment plans, pain management is different for each patient. The pain resulting from treatment comes in different intensities and places for each person. Cancer pain management must be unique to your individual treatment plan. Please consult with your doctor and develop a regimen for your unique pain.
- Sexuality: The most common side effect for sexuality while undergoing treatment is a loss of desire. The sexual symptoms resulting from treatment are different for men and women. Also, the medications you're receiving to treat other symptoms may decrease a lack of sexual desire. Please talk with your doctor before participating in sexual activities.
- Sleep Loss: If you’re not receiving enough rest it could be a result of treatment, anxiety, depression or illness. Some patients have trouble falling asleep and others cannot sleep in length. With any symptom, please inform your doctor if you are having trouble sleeping.
- Stress Reduction: Processing the emotions associated with your diagnosis and treatment can be overwhelming. Discussing fears and stress with your physicians, family and loved ones will help promote an open conversation about your cancer. Also, there are several organization and support groups available for patients.
If you have questions about chemotherapy, please feel free to contact us.