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Chemotherapy: What to Expect

How Long Chemotherapy Takes

Treatment schedules vary. Whatever your treatment plan is, it is important to follow it precisely. The doctor will tell you exactly how much of a drug you need and when you need to have it. That means you can't skip appointments, or if you’re getting your chemo at home, you can’t change the amount or timing of your medication.

Typically, the doctor will prescribe a specific number of cycles for your treatment. A cycle refers to the number of days you take a drug and the number of days you don't. For example, your cycle may be 3 weeks long -- 2 weeks of daily chemo followed by 1 week of no therapy. The period of no therapy is important because it gives healthy cells time to recover.

Depending on your reaction to treatment, your doctor may make changes to your plan.

Side Effects

Discuss possible side effects with your doctor before you start therapy. Some people don’t have any; most have at least some. Your side effects will depend on many things, including the drug you take, your overall health, and the type and stage of cancer you have.

Possible temporary side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Bowel and bladder problems
  • Hair loss
  • Infections

Longer-lasting side effects can include sexual and fertility problems, and possible organ damage.

Talk to your doctor about what to expect on the day of treatment as well as after treatment is over. Your doctor can help you manage your side effects.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Sujana Movva, MD on August 06, 2013
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