Cancer Treatment: What to Expect
Chemotherapy can sometimes cause long-lasting side effects, like infertility and nerve damage. Talk to your cancer doctor about the risks of your treatment plan and how you can avoid them.
In most cases, you’ll get your chemotherapy at an outpatient clinic. You won’t know how it will make you feel until you’ve had your first treatment. So plan to have someone to drive you home.
Oral (a.k.a. “No Needle”) Chemotherapy
With this type of treatment, you swallow a drug in liquid, tablet, or capsule form at home. It works as well as other forms of chemotherapy for some types of cancer, but not all chemo drugs can be taken by mouth. There are some that the stomach can’t absorb, and others can be harmful if you swallow them. Oral drugs can cost more out-of-pocket than traditional chemo, too.
Again, the side effects can vary, but they’re similar to the ones you’d have with regular 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 because you’re vomiting.
This common treatment uses high-energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells to keep them from spreading. It might be your only treatment, or you might get it along with surgery or chemotherapy. Most people get it in small doses at a time: 5 days a week for 6 to 7 weeks.
Radiation itself isn't painful, but afterward you may have pain, fatigue, and skin rashes around the place you got the treatment. Side effects depend on where your cancer is. For example, if you’re having head or neck radiation, you may get a dry mouth.
Other Cancer Treatments
Your doctor may recommend other options as part of your treatment plan, including:
- Targeted therapy, in which drugs work against specific parts of cancer cells to keep them from growing or spreading.
- Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, which gets the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
Stem cell transplants. Doctors use chemo or radiation to destroy as many cancer cells as possible, then try to replace them with healthy stem cells from bone marrow or blood.
- Photodynamic therapy. Doctors inject a special drug into the bloodstream, then use a specific type of light to make it kill cancer cells.
With any cancer treatment, it might take a while before you know how it affects your disease. Stay in touch with your doctor and keep her in the loop about anything that doesn’t feel right. You are the most important part of your cancer care team.