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Cancer Treatment: What to Expect

If you’ve recently learned you have cancer, you probably have a lot on your mind. Your doctor may have recommended a treatment plan, and you might have concerns about what’s involved and how it will make you feel. 

It’s normal to be nervous or afraid. Taking the time to learn as much as you can about the treatment and what to expect afterward can ease some of your worries, as well as give you a sense of control.

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You and your doctor will decide what treatment is best for you based on the type of cancer you have, it’s location, and stage. 

Some common cancer treatments include the following.

Surgery

Most people with cancer will have some type of surgery. Doctors may do it to diagnose or find out the extent of the cancer. They may also do surgery to remove tumors, tissue, or areas with cancerous cells, such as lymph nodes. 

In many cases, surgery offers the best chance of wiping out the disease, especially if it hasn’t spread to other parts of the body.

Certain cancers can be treated with: 

  • laser surgery (beams of light) 
  • electrosurgery (electric currents) 
  • cryosurgery (the use of extremely cold temperatures to freeze cancer cells)

Your recovery from the procedure will depend on things such as:

  • the type and stage of your cancer
  • the kind of surgery performed
  • your overall health

 You'll be given medication to block pain and may receive other meds, such as antibiotics to lower the risk of infection during or after your surgery.

Chemotherapy

Chemo uses medications to treat cancer. There are two different ways it can be given:

“Traditional” Chemotherapy 

You get most chemotherapy medication injected into a vein. 

But some types can be given in the muscle, under the skin, or on the skin as a topical treatment, like an ointment.

The side effects vary from person to person, even if you have the same type of cancer and receive the same treatment as someone else. Some of the most common side effects are:

  • fatigue
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • hair loss
  • mouth sores
  • pain

Chemotherapy can sometimes cause long-term side effects, like infertility and nerve damage. Talk to your oncologist about the risks of your treatment plan.

In most cases, you’ll receive your chemotherapy at an outpatient clinic. You won’t know how you’ll tolerate chemo until you’ve had your first treatment. Plan to have someone to drive you home.

Oral (a.k.a. “No Needle”) Chemotherapy 

With this type of chemo, you take a drug (in liquid, tablet, or capsule form) by mouth, at home. Oral chemo is as effective as other forms, but not all chemo drugs can be taken by mouth. Some can’t be absorbed by the stomach and others can be harmful if swallowed. Oral chemo can be more expensive than traditional chemo.

Again, the side effects can vary but are similar to those of traditional chemo. 

If your doctor recommends oral chemo, it’s important to take it exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor right away if you can’t keep your medication down due to vomiting.

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