A Guide For People With Cancer
This guide helps you to understand chemotherapy. Your family and friends may also find it helpful to learn about your treatment. You will find information about:
1. Chemotherapy and how it works.
2. Common side effects and helpful tips to manage them.
3. How to look after yourself during treatment.
Everyone is different and everyone’s cancer treatment and side effects are different. Talk to your healthcare team about your situations. Tell them about any side effects you may have. This booklet is designed to help you work with your healthcare team.
Working With Your HealthCare Team
Teamwork is needed to treat cancer. Before treatment begins, you will meet with your healthcare team to discuss the choices that are available to you. Your healthcare team will consider.
1. The type of cancer you have
2. The state and grade of your cancer (how far it has progressed)
3. Your age
4. Your general health
5. Any other medical problems you might have. Your healthcare team will make recommendations about your care and treatment. Your situation is unique and you will help to make the final decisions that are right for you.
The team working with you may include many different professionals.
- A Surgeon performs any biopsies (cells or tissues are removed from the body and examined to help with a diagnosis) or surgery that you may need.
- A Radiologist reads and interprets X-rays and other imaging tests. They also perform biopsies during the specialized X-ray procedures.
- A Pathologist looks at the tissue from the biopsy under a microscope to see if it has cancer cells.
- A Medical Oncologist specializes in the treatment of cancer suing different medications, such as chemotherapy drugs.
- A Radiation Oncologist treats the cancer with special X-ray therapy (Radiation).
- A Surgical Oncologist treats the cancer by removing lumps or tumors from the body.
- An Oncology Nurse has received special education and has experience in caring for people with cancer.
- An Oncology Pharmacist prepares and dispenses cancer drugs and other medications, and helps teach you about your medications.
- An Oncology Social Worker or Psychologist provides support and can help you and your family cope with the disease and its treatment.
- A Physiotherapist helps with the physical recovery from your illness. They can help maintain and help improve your overall fitness and health.
- A registered Dietician has received special education in nutrition and has additional clinical training. They can offer you counselling about your diet during your cancer treatments. Your family doctor plays an important part in continuing your care, especially after your cancer treatments are over.
You are the most important member of your healthcare team. As a member of the team, you should:
- Be involved in decisions that affect you.
- Learn about your cancer and your treatments in a way that feels right for you.
- Talk to your healthcare team about your worries or concerns.
- Keep your doctor, clinic and hospital appointments.
- Write down questions to ask your healthcare team, so that you won’t forget them at your next appointment.
- Ask your healthcare team how you can contact them between appointments if you have any questions that need answers sooner.
Cancer And Chemotherapy
Cancer is a disease that starts in our cells. Our bodies are made up of millions of cells, grouped together to form tissues or organs such as the lungs, the liver, muscles and bones. Normally our cells obey their orders and we remain healthy. Sometimes a cell’s instructions get mixed up and it behaves abnormally. After a while groups of abnormal cells form lumps or tumors.
What Is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a method of treating cancer by using drugs. Often, a combination of chemotherapy drugs is used. Chemotherapy is one of many different ways to treat cancer. The three most common ways are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Surgery removes the cancer from one area of your body to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is different from surgery or radiation therapy because it affects the whole body.
The Goals Of Chemotherapy
- Destroy the cancer
- Shrink a tumor before other treatments
- Destroy cancer cells after other treatments
How Chemotherapy Works?
Cancer cells grow in an uncontrolled way. Chemotherapy drugs slow or even stop the cancer cells from growing, multiplying or spreading to other parts of your body.
How Long Does Chemotherapy Treatment Last?
Each cancer is different so each treatment plan is different. Your healthcare team will estimate how long your chemotherapy schedule will last. You may get chemotherapy treatment every day, every week or every month.
How Is Chemotherapy Treatment Given?
Chemotherapy drugs can be given by mouth (orally) or by injection, depending on type of chemotherapy. Your healthcare team will help you decide on the method that is best for you.
Is Chemotherapy Painful?
Chemotherapy treatments should not be painful, but they can cause side effects that are painful.
How Will You Know If The Chemotherapy Treatment Is Working?
During regular visits with your healthcare team, they will check how you are doing and how well the treatment is working. They will check your progress with physical exams, blood tests, imaging scans and X-rays. These tests will show if the chemotherapy drugs are destroying the cancer cells.
Chemotherapy And Other Medications
Before your first treatment, let your healthcare team know about any other medications you are taking. These medications might interact with chemotherapy drugs, making them less effective or producing side effects.
Chemotherapy And You – Fever And Infection
Chemotherapy lowers the number of white blood cells (WBCs) your body makes. A fever of 1010 F (38.30C), or chills with or without a fever, can be a serious sign of infection. You must call your oncologist should this occur even if you experience these symptoms at night or on the weekend.
Practical Hints Regarding Fever & Infection
1. If you have a fever of 1010 F (38.30 C) with or without chills, call your care provider immediately, if you cannot reach your oncologist, go to an emergency room.
2. Keep a thermometer in your home and know how to take your temperature in the following manner.
3. Do not eat, drink (or smoke) for 10 minutes before taking your temperature.
4. We encourage frequent hand washing with soap and water.
5. Do not eat raw food.
6. Wash hands and cutting boards well after food preparation.
Flu Like Symptoms
Around the third day following a chemotherapy treatment, some people may experience flu like symptoms such as muscle aches and pains. If you experience these aches, you can take over the counter medications that you regularly use, such as Crocin.
Practical Hints for Nausea
Before your chemotherapy appointment, eat a small, light meal. Eat what sounds good to you Plenty of fluids, herbal teas, water, “sports drinks” and diluted juices are recommended more than soda. Avoid smells that are unappealing.
Chemotherapy can make you feel tired.
Practical Hints for Fatigue
Plan your activities such as grocery shopping, for a time when you feel the best. Take naps early in the day so you do not disturb your sleep pattern at night. Consider exercising everyday or several times a week. Good forms of exercise include swimming, walking and yoga.
Many people feel that hair loss is one of the most difficult aspects of chemotherapy treatment. Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss, so talk to your physician. Most often hair loss begins about 2-3 weeks after starting chemotherapy. You may want to cover your head with a wig, scarf, hat or turban, or you may not want to cover your head at all. Do what makes you feel most comfortable. Your hair will begin to grow back after you stop chemotherapy. It usually takes from 2-3 months to see the change from no hair to some hair.
Appetite And Taste Changes
During chemotherapy you may experience taste and appetite changes and a heightened sensitivity to odors. Do not worry if you don’t have an appetite the first few days or a week following chemotherapy. It is not unusual, and as you feel better your appetite will improve.
Practical hints for Taste and Appetite changes
Eat what appeals to you during this time. Eat foods that are warm rather than hot. Avoid places where food is being cooked. Avoid smells that are unappealing. To try drink 8-10 glasses of fluid a day.
Diarrhea Or Constipation
Some chemotherapy drugs can cause diarrhea. If you have more than three or four watery stools in 24 hours, or blood in your stool, call your care provider.
Practical Hints for constipation
To help prevent constipation try drinking 8-10 glasses of fluid a day. Stay as active as you can, as consistent regular exercise can reduce constipation.
Practical Hints for Diarrhea
To replenish lost fluids, drink 8-10 eight ounce glasses of decaffeinated fluids per day.
Another side effect of chemotherapy can be mouth sores and discomfort when swallowing. Mouth sores occur because chemotherapy not only destroys cancer cells, but also rapidly dividing cells.
Practical Hints for Mouth Sores
Brush your teeth a soft toothbrush 3 times daily. Rinse your mouth with a solution of 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon of salt, diluted in a glass of lukewarm water 3-4 times daily.