When Your Chemotherapy Changes

Before your chemo begins, you should have a clear plan in place. Still, you or your doctor might decide to change the drugs you're taking or how you take them once your chemo is under way. It's important you understand why you’re making the change.

Here are some reasons you might switch treatments and how these changes can affect your health.

Your first treatment isn't working. The goal of chemotherapy is to either cure your cancer or stop it from spreading. If a physical exam or imaging tests show that your tumor is still growing after your first few sessions, your doctor might recommend a different treatment.

You have a bad reaction. Chemo can cause side effects -- vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, and more -- that can be hard to handle. If the treatment is your best chance at a cure, your doctor will probably strongly recommend you stick with it, even if it’s hard on you.

Sometimes, though, side effects can become too dangerous to keep up the treatment. Some chemo can cause very low levels of blood cells and raise your chance of having an infection. You could also have an allergic reaction to a specific drug. In these cases, your doctor might suggest spacing out your sessions or trying a different medication.

Your cancer spreads or gets a lot worse. If you take certain chemotherapy, but your cancer still gets to a more advanced stage, your doctor may switch to another treatment. This can keep your cancer from spreading further. 

You're worried about cost. Some insurance companies require you to pay a co-percentage (rather than a flat-rate co-pay) of certain brand-name drugs, especially ones you take by mouth. If you get bills that you can't afford, you might be able to switch to a less expensive treatment.

Your doctor planned the switch ahead of time. Sometimes your plan includes two different chemo drugs, one after the other. Your doctor will tell you about this early on so you’ll know when to expect it.

You asked for a change. Depending on the cancer you have and how severe it is, you might be able to plan sessions around things in your life, like holidays or special occasions. It's important to remember, though, that the treatment may not work as well if you alter the schedule, even by a little bit. Always make sure your doctor knows about and supports any changes you'd like to make.

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How the Change Will Affect You

Different treatments can have different side effects, so a new treatment plan can often help you feel better. Of course, it may also have side effects of its own, which you should discuss with your doctor.

For example, nausea and vomiting are more common with some drugs than others. If you’re switching to a drug that's known for this, you might get more medications to keep you from feeling sick.

After a change, you may notice a difference in your energy levels, appetite, pain, or overall health. Talk to your doctor about how you feel -- he can help you manage your symptoms in the safest way possible.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on February 22, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Joan Kramer, MD, medical editor, American Cancer Society.

American Cancer Society: "Chemotherapy Principles."

The Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative: "Allergic Reactions and Chemotherapy."

American Cancer Society: "Planning Drug Doses and Schedules."

BreastCancer.org: "Fitting Treatment into Your Schedule."

National Cancer Institute: "Chemotherapy and You."

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