What Happens When You Go in For a Chemotherapy Cancer Treatment

Adding to the anxiety of cancer is the unknown of what your first chemotherapy treatment will be like. McLeod Seacoast Oncologist Stewart Sharp, MD, helps relieve the unknown by explaining what happens when you go in for a chemotherapy cancer treatment.

Here are highlights of Dr. Sharp’s comments:

Chemotherapy can be done in an outpatient setting. It’s really preferred to be done that way. Rather than being admitted to the hospital, you go into an outpatient chemotherapy treatment center. It could be at the hospital or a separate building. The patient comes in. They’ll  will commonly see the physician. If there are any questions about how well they are before therapy, we check blood counts or other conduct lab studies so that we can ensure the patient is prepared to tolerate the chemotherapy.

Then, the patient sees the chemotherapy nurses. The pharmacy mixes the agents in a very precise way and a very specific method by which the chemotherapy medicines are given. Usually the patients are first given medicines for side effects, such as nausea and vomiting. They’re given each of the chemotherapies. Most of the chemotherapy medicines are intravenous although some are pills and can be taken before or after the intravenous medications.

After chemotherapy, there may be a period of observation. But typically, patients go home in a short interval after the chemotherapy treatment. Many chemotherapies are administered over an hour to four hours or so. There are some newer medicines that require longer infusion times.

The outpatient infusion centers have become more pleasant places. We try to make them soothing environments. Patients pretty much have the undivided attention of the nurses. There’s a great deal of effort in making patients comfortable about the process. Often, there are TV sets, computers and various things to do while you’re sitting there during treatment. It’s a misconception that you should not eat or be very careful about what you do. There are snacks that can be offered to the patient. You also have the opportunity to ask questions of the nurses and you have the opportunity to even ask questions of the physician, if you need too.

We try to help patients maintain as much of their normal activity and style of life as possible while they’re taking treatment. We have experts on hand for every part of the process, including pharmacists specially trained in the chemotherapy medicines and preparing them properly for administration. There are very specific practices for administering the chemotherapy. Throughout the entire process, we want to be sure that what we do is safe and ultimately effective for the patent.

Have a question?  Ask a cancer specialist.