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Questions to Ask Before You Start Chemotherapy

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Chemotherapy can be scary and confusing, but the more you know, the better prepared you can be. Before you start chemotherapy, ask your doctor these questions…     

How will my chemotherapy be given? There are several possibilities, including intravenous, pills, injections, and others.

How frequently will I be treated—and where? You’ll need to make your overall schedule work with your treatment. Some treatments must be given at a clinic or doctor’s office, while others can be taken at home. Some are very quick, and some require several hours each time.

Can I drive myself to my chemotherapy appointments—and will I be able to continue my usual activities? Chemotherapy can affect alertness, vision and other functions. Check with your doctor about the likelihood of fatigue and what limitations you can expect as you progress through treatment.

What side effects can I expect—and how can I minimize them?

Chemo has a long list of potential side effects—some immediate and some that take a while for onset. Ask your doctor whether he has advice for minimizing side effects based on experience with other patients.

What can I do about nausea?  This is one side effect that’s definitely worth a special conversation because, along with dietary adjustments, there are anti-nausea drugs available. Ask your doctor what he/she recommends.

Will I lose my hair? If it occurs, hair loss will likely begin soon after starting chemotherapy, but your hair should grow back after treatment. Some patients cover their heads when out and about…some use wigs or hairpieces…and some shave their scalps to minimize fuss. If you may want a wig or hairpiece, ask your doctor’s office and insurer about options and costs.

Should I keep taking my usual medications and supplements? Some medications (prescription and over-the-counter) and supplements may affect the way chemotherapy acts in your body. Be sure to discuss with your doctor in detail which to continue and which to suspend.

Will chemotherapy affect my sex life? Questions to discuss with your doctor include loss of libido, avoiding pregnancy, freezing eggs or sperm for future use and using condoms to protect against traces of drugs in body fluid.

How should I protect myself against infections? Most chemotherapy patients have a high risk for infections—which can be serious or even life-threatening. Ask your doctor what measures you should take, given your overall health and course of treatment, to protect yourself against infections.

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Source:  National Cancer Institute, Cancer.gov/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC.gov/American Cancer Society, Cancer.org/University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, UIHC.org/OncoLink, OncoLink.org. Date: June 5, 2017 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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