Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of drugs to fight cancer. It affects cells that grow quickly, like
cancer cells, but it can also affect some of your normal cells. It may be used alone or with
surgery and/or radiation. Chemo is given to:
ξ Kill cancer cells
ξ Keep your cancer from spreading to other parts of your body
ξ Slow cancer growth
ξ Prepare you for other treatments like radiation or surgery
ξ Help with pain
ξ Get you ready for a transplant
How chemotherapy is given
It can be given in many ways.
ξ As a tablet, capsule, or liquid, taken by mouth
ξ Into a vein or artery
ξ As an injection just under the skin (sub-q) or into a muscle (IM)
ξ Into the abdominal cavity (intraperitoneal or IP)
ξ Into the spinal fluid
ξ Injected into the tumor
How often will I get my chemotherapy?
Chemo is given on a regular cycle, sometimes with breaks between treatments. It may be given
daily, weekly, or monthly. The schedule depends on the type of cancer you have and the drug(s)
you are given. Your doctor or nurse will explain your schedule to you. Many patients find a
written calendar to be helpful to remember when chemo will be given.
The nurse giving you your chemo will tell you which side effects are most often seen with the
drugs you are getting. Some people have very few side effects. It is important to let your health
care team know about any problems you are having. There are many things that can be done to
Chemo kills cancer cells, but can also damage some normal cells. The most common side effects
occur because of damage to these normal cells.
Normal cells affected by chemotherapy Side effects that may occur
Lining of the mouth, stomach, and colon Mouth and throat soreness, nausea, vomiting,
Hair follicles Hair loss
Blood cells Low blood counts - fatigue, increased risk for
The side effects can depend on many factors.
ξ Your body and how you respond.
ξ The type of chemo you receive. Each drug has different side effects.
ξ How the drug is given and over what timeframe.
ξ Your overall health.
Blood counts affected by chemotherapy
There are three basic types of cells that make up your blood.
ξ Red cells – carry oxygen. When your red cell count is low, it is called anemia.
ξ White cells – fight infection. When your white cell count is low, it is called
ξ Platelets – help clot your blood. If your platelet count is low, it is called
thrombocytopenia. When your platelet counts are low, you are more at risk for bleeding.
How long do the side effects last?
Some side effects may occur within the first 24-48 hours after your treatment and then resolve.
Other side effects occur days after your treatment. Fatigue, or feeling tired, is a common side
effect for those who are receiving treatment for cancer. Fatigue may last longer than your other
side effects, so you may need to make changes in your normal routines and work schedule.
Chemotherapy can affect appetite in the following ways:
ξ Changes in the sense of taste and smell.
ξ Loss of appetite, or low appetite
ξ Nausea and vomiting
ξ Feeling full or bloated
Keep in mind that changes in appetite may come and go throughout treatment. Follow these
suggestions to help minimize your symptoms:
ξ Meet with a dietitian at the Carbone Cancer Center to learn how to manage treatment side
effects. Call 608-265-1700 to set-up an appointment at your next clinic visit.
ξ Use your anti-nausea medicines as prescribed. If you are unsure when to take them, ask
your nurse for a written schedule.
ξ Eating dry foods like crackers, pretzels or toast first thing in the morning might help
ξ On the day of treatment, eat a light meal or snack. Avoid heavy, greasy foods.
ξ Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Water, clear soda like Sprite®, ginger ale,
fruit juice, decaffeinated tea, and broth are hydrating.
ξ Call your healthcare provider if you are not able to drink.
Sexuality and fertility
ξ Chemo can effect the production of sperm. Men may want to ask their doctor or nurse
about sperm banking before starting chemo.
ξ Women may go into early menopause and notice increased vaginal dryness. Lubricants
may be used.
ξ Chemo can be present in body fluids for 48 hours after completion of treatment. It is
important to avoid sex during these two days after chemo.
ξ You will need to use birth control during your treatment and for several months after the
treatment is finished to prevent pregnancy for yourself or your partner.
ξ If your platelets or white blood cells are low, you may need to avoid intercourse until
those blood counts return to normal.
ξ Talk with your partner about how the treatment is affecting you. It is normal to have
changes in sexual desire during this time.
Discuss any questions with your health care team. We may be able to help you manage changes
during this time.
During treatment and for a few months after treatment, you will be more sensitive to sunlight.
ξ Avoid direct sunlight as much as possible.
ξ Use a sun screen lotion of 30 or higher SPF. Remember to apply to your head as well if
you are losing your hair.
ξ Wear a hat with full coverage of your head when outside, especially if you are losing your
ξ Even people with darker skin tones need to take sun precautions.
If you have questions or concerns, please call:
Clinic ___________________________________Phone number _________________________
Your Doctor is ____________________________Phone number_________________________
Your Nurse is _____________________________Phone number_________________________
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 4/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5070.