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Chemotherapy - what to ask your doctor

What to ask your doctor about chemotherapy

You are having chemotherapy. This is treatment that uses medicines to kill cancer cells. Depending on your type of cancer and treatment plan, you may receive chemotherapy in one of several ways. These include:

  • By mouth
  • By injection under the skin (subcutaneous)
  • Through an intravenous (IV) line
  • Injected into the spinal fluid (intrathecal)
  • Injected into the abdominal cavity (intraperitoneal).

Your health care provider will need to follow you closely while you are having chemotherapy. You will also need to learn how to care for yourself during this time.

Below are questions you may want to ask your provider.

Questions

Am I at risk for infections?

  • What foods should I avoid so that I do not get an infection?
  • Is my water at home OK to drink? Are there places I should not drink the water?
  • Can I go swimming?
  • What should I do when I go to a restaurant or public place?
  • Can I be around pets?
  • What immunizations do I need? Which immunizations should I stay away from?
  • Is it OK to be in a crowd of people? Do I need to wear a mask?
  • Can I have visitors over? Do they need to wear a mask?
  • When should I wash my hands?

Am I at risk of bleeding? Is it OK to shave? What should I do if I cut myself or start bleeding?

What over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can I take for headaches, the common cold, and other illnesses?

Do I need to use birth control?

What if I think I may be pregnant?

What should I be eating to keep my weight and strength up?

Will I be sick to my stomach or have loose stools or diarrhea? How long after I receive my chemotherapy before these problems may start? What can I do if I am sick to my stomach or have diarrhea often?

Are there any foods or vitamins I should avoid?

Are there any medicines I should keep on hand?

Are there any medicines I should not take?

Will my hair fall out? Is there anything I can do about it?

How do I take care of my mouth and lips?

  • How can I prevent or treat mouth sores?
  • How often should I brush my teeth? What type of toothpaste should I use?
  • What can I do about dry mouth?
  • What should I do if I have a mouth sore?

Is it OK to be out in the sun? Do I need to use sunscreen? Do I need to stay indoors during cold weather?

What can I do about my fatigue?

When should I call my provider?

References

American Cancer Society website. Chemotherapy. www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/chemotherapy/chemotherapy-side-effects.html. Updated May 1, 2020. Accessed December 27, 2022.

Collins JM. Cancer pharmacology. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 25.

National Cancer Institute website. Chemotherapy and you: support for people with cancer. www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf. Updated September 2018. Accessed December 27, 2022.

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Review Date: 10/16/2022

Reviewed By: Mark Levin, MD, Hematologist and Oncologist, Monsey, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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