Prep for Chemo: How to Stock Your Medicine Cabinet

If you’re getting chemotherapy, it’s likely the treatment will affect how you feel afterward. The side effects of chemo are different for everyone, and you can’t always be sure which ones you’ll feel. It can help to make a clear plan for how you’ll keep yourself comfortable at home.

Your cancer care team will have tips on how to handle possible chemo side effects, but you can also plan to have a few items on hand before you start:

Soft-bristle toothbrush: Chemo can damage the fast-growing cells that line your mouth and gums, as well as the glands that make saliva, which may cause dryness, tenderness, and sores. That’s why it’s important to be gentle with this delicate tissue. A soft-bristle toothbrush helps, and you can make it even softer with hot water. Or you can go a step further and clean your teeth with simple cotton swabs or disposable sponges made for your mouth.

Diarrhea medication: Diarrhea is common with chemotherapy because it can damage the healthy cells that line your intestines.Over-the-counter medications can help, such as loperamide (Imodium AD, Diamode, Kaopectate 1-D, etc.). Talk to your cancer health care team before you start any medication to make sure it is safe and doesn’t interfere with your treatment.

Anti-nausea medications: Nausea is another common side effect of chemotherapy, so it’s a good idea to have these meds on hand before it starts. Your doctor may prescribe medication for you, but over-the-counter remedies can help, too. Talk to your health care team about which anti-nausea medications are best for you.

Pain medication: Some types of chemo can cause pain. You might feel shooting or burning sensations in your hands or feet. Or you could get headaches, mouth sores, muscle pain, stomachache, and other things. Talk to your health care team about the best pain meds to have at home during treatment and be sure to tell them whenever you start using one.



Disposable gloves: The toxic chemicals from chemotherapy exit your body in urine, stool, sweat, vomit, blood, mucus, and other fluids. If you or a loved one comes in contact with these fluids, they could harm your skin even 2 to 3 days after your treatment. You or anyone taking care of you should wear 2 pairs of disposable gloves when touching your bodily fluids or cleaning up after you. Wash yourself regularly, as well as any sinks and toilets you use with hot soapy water.

Birth control: Chemotherapy can damage a man’s sperm and hurt a baby before it’s born, when it’s still in a woman’s uterus. That’s why it’s important to avoid pregnancy during your treatment and for a year afterward. Talk with your health care team about the right birth control for you during your treatment.

Condoms: First, they’re a form of birth control, which is important during chemotherapy. But they also protect your and your partner’s skin from the toxic chemicals that can stay in body fluids in the 2 to 3 days after each treatment.

Sunscreen: Chemo can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, even if you have darker skin. When you need to be outside, be sure to cover all exposed skin with sunscreen with an SPF rating of 15 or higher. You can also use ointment that blocks the sun, like zinc oxide.



Moisturizer and lip balm: Chemo can damage and dry out your

skin. You might notice itching, redness, and peeling that goes away once the chemo stops for a while. It helps to take quick showers then to put on a moisturizing lotion while your skin is still damp. Look for a high quality, paraben-free, hypoallergenic moisturizer. And don’t forget lip balm for your lips, preferably with sun protection (15-plus SPF). Ask your health care team if you’re unsure of the best products to use.

Nail care kit: Chemo can change your fingernails and toenails and make them more likely to get infected, which could be a more serious problem since chemo or cancer can affect your immune system. Use your own clean tools to help prevent infections: A nail clipper, scissors, and files to keep your nails short and trim. Apply cuticle cream every day to keep your cuticle areas soft and pliabl

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 26, 2021



American Cancer Society: “Chemotherapy Safety.” “Things to Gather BEFORE You Start Chemotherapy.” “Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting (CINV).”

Mayo Clinic: “Chemotherapy nausea and vomiting: Prevention is best defense.”

National Cancer Institute: “Cancer Treatment,” “Chemotherapy and You.”

UpToDate: “Management of acute chemotherapy-related diarrhea.”

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