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Treatment Q&A

Treatment Q&A

At Arizona Center for Cancer Care, we are dedicated to providing state-of-the-art, evidence-based therapies in a compassionate and comfortable setting.

Before Treatment

You will meet with a doctor or nurse before your first treatment – no matter why type. He or she will tell you how the treatment works and how it can help you. You will also learn about any potential side effects of treatment you can expect after treatment. We always leave time to answer any and all questions you and your family might have before we begin.

In advance of your first treatment, you will get a physical examination, and you and your doctor will discuss your health and medical history. You might also have some tests – usually x-rays and CT scans.

Fast Facts about Receiving External Beam Radiation Radiation

Q: What is external beam radiation?
A: A common cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. A large machine aims radiation at the cancer. The machine moves around you without touching you at all.

Q: What does each treatment feel like? Does it hurt?
A: You don’t feel a thing. In fact, it can’t be felt, seen or smelled. And no, it does not make you radioactive.

Q: How does external beam radiation work?
A: At low doses, radiation is used as an x-ray to take pictures inside your body. When used to treat cancer, higher doses are used to destroy cancer cells. The radiation that destroys the cancer cells can destroy some nearby healthy cells. This is why you might have side effects.

Q: What do I wear to treatment appointments?
A: Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes. Don’t have on any type of powder, Band-Aids, deodorant or jewelry.

Q: How do you know where to aim the machine?
A: Before you begin treatment, the radiation therapist will put small marks (dots of colored ink) on your skin. These marks show where to aim the radiation.

Q: How long does treatment take?
A: As with any disease, the length of treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer. Most treatments take two to 10 weeks.

Q: What do I do during this time?
A: You will probably be laying down on a treatment table. Your radiation therapists will be in the next room to control the machine. He or she will be able to communicate with you at all times through a speaker. He or she will also be able to see you at all times. You will need to lie still, but won’t have to hold your breath or anything like that. You may see lights pointed at you. They are safe and just show the therapist where to point the machine.

Q: How long does each treatment last?
A: You actually only get radiation for one to five minutes, but you may be in the treatment room for up to 30 minutes, or up to an hour if there are other tests needed while you are with us.

Q: How often do I need treatment?
A: Most people get treatment once a day for five days in a row – usually Monday through Friday. Sometimes, people get treatment twice a day.

Q: Are there any side effects of treatment?
A: Side effects vary greatly from patient to patient, but most commonly include fatigue and skin irritations. For more information about side effects of treatment, please click here. Be sure to ask your doctor or nurse about side effects from your specific treatment, as they may vary depending on where you are getting radiation.

For more information on receiving external beam radiation treatment, please visit cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

Fast Facts about Receiving Chemotherapy Treatment

Q: What is chemotherapy?
A: Chemotherapy (also called chemo) is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells.

Q: How does chemotherapy work?
A: Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly. But it can also harm healthy cells that divide quickly, such as those that line your mouth and intestines or cause your hair to grow. Damage to healthy cells may cause side effects. Often, side effects get better or go away after chemotherapy is over.

Q: What does chemotherapy do?
A: Depending on your type of cancer and how advanced it is, chemotherapy can:

  • Cure cancer – when chemotherapy destroys cancer cells to the point that your doctor can no longer detect them in your body and they will not grow back.
  • Control cancer – when chemotherapy keeps cancer from spreading, slows its growth, or destroys cancer cells that have spread to other parts of your body.
  • Ease cancer symptoms (also called palliative care) – when chemotherapy shrinks tumors that are causing pain or pressure.

Q: How is chemotherapy used?
A: Sometimes, chemotherapy is used as the only cancer treatment. But more often, you will get chemotherapy along with surgery, radiation therapy, or biological therapy. Chemotherapy can:

  • Make a tumor smaller before surgery or radiation therapy. This is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.
  • Destroy cancer cells that may remain after surgery or radiation therapy. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
  • Help radiation therapy and biological therapy work better.
  • Destroy cancer cells that have come back (recurrent cancer) or spread to other parts of your body (metastatic cancer).

Q: How does my doctor decide which chemotherapy drugs to use?
A: This choice depends on:

  • The type of cancer you have. Some types of chemotherapy drugs are used for many types of cancer. Other drugs are used for just one or two types of cancer.
  • Whether you have had chemotherapy before
  • Whether you have other health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease

Q: Where do I go for chemotherapy?
A: You may receive chemotherapy during a hospital stay, at home, or in a doctor’s office, clinic, or outpatient unit in a hospital (which means you do not have to stay overnight). No matter where you go for chemotherapy, your doctor and nurse will watch for side effects and make any needed drug changes.

Q: How often will I receive chemotherapy?
Treatment schedules for chemotherapy vary widely. How often and how long you get chemotherapy depends on:

  • Your type of cancer and how advanced it is
  • The goals of treatment (whether chemotherapy is used to cure your cancer, control its growth, or ease the symptoms)
  • The type of chemotherapy
  • How your body reacts to chemotherapy
  • You may receive chemotherapy in cycles. A cycle is a period of chemotherapy treatment followed by a period of rest. For instance, you might receive 1 week of chemotherapy followed by 3 weeks of rest. These 4 weeks make up one cycle. The rest period gives your body a chance to build new healthy cells.

Q: Can I miss a dose of chemotherapy?
A: It is not good to skip a chemotherapy treatment. But sometimes your doctor or nurse may change your chemotherapy schedule. This can be due to side effects you are having. If this happens, your doctor or nurse will explain what to do and when to start treatment again.

Q: How is chemotherapy given?
A: Chemotherapy may be given in many ways.

  • The chemotherapy is given by a shot in a muscle in your arm, thigh, or hip or right under the skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or belly.
  • Intra-arterial (IA). The chemotherapy goes directly into the artery that is feeding the cancer.
  • Intraperitoneal (IP). The chemotherapy goes directly into the peritoneal cavity (the area that contains organs such as your intestines, stomach, liver, and ovaries).
  • Intravenous (IV). The chemotherapy goes directly into a vein.
  • The chemotherapy comes in a cream that you rub onto your skin.
  • The chemotherapy comes in pills, capsules, or liquids that you swallow.

Q: What is IV chemotherapy and how does it work?
A: Chemotherapy is often given through a thin needle that is placed in a vein on your hand or lower arm. Your nurse will put the needle in at the start of each treatment and remove it when treatment is over. Let your doctor or nurse know right away if you feel pain or burning while you are getting IV chemotherapy.

IV chemotherapy is often given through catheters or ports, sometimes with the help of a pump.

  • A catheter is a soft, thin tube. A surgeon places one end of the catheter in a large vein, often in your chest area. The other end of the catheter stays outside your body. Most catheters stay in place until all your chemotherapy treatments are done. Catheters can also be used for drugs other than chemotherapy and to draw blood. Be sure to watch for signs of infection around your catheter. For more information on infection, see Infection.
  • A port is a small, round disc made of plastic or metal that is placed under your skin. A catheter connects the port to a large vein, most often in your chest. Your nurse can insert a needle into your port to give you chemotherapy or draw blood. This needle can be left in place for chemotherapy treatments that are given for more than 1 day. Be sure to watch for signs of infection around your port. For more information on infection, see Infection.
  • Pumps are often attached to catheters or ports. They control how much and how fast chemotherapy goes into a catheter or port. Pumps can be internal or external. External pumps remain outside your body. Most people can carry these pumps with them. Internal pumps are placed under your skin during surgery.

Q: How will I feel during chemotherapy?
A: Chemotherapy affects people in different ways. How you feel depends on how healthy you are before treatment, your type of cancer, how advanced it is, the kind of chemotherapy you are getting, and the dose. Doctors and nurses cannot know for certain how you will feel during chemotherapy.

Some people do not feel well right after chemotherapy. The most common side effect is fatigue, feeling exhausted and worn out. You can prepare for fatigue by:

  • Asking someone to drive you to and from chemotherapy
  • Planning time to rest on the day of and day after chemotherapy
  • Getting help with meals and childcare the day of and at least 1 day after chemotherapy
  • There are many ways you can help manage chemotherapy side effects.

Q: Can I work during chemotherapy?
A: Many people can work during chemotherapy, as long as they match their schedule to how they feel. Whether or not you can work may depend on what kind of work you do. If your job allows, you may want to see if you can work part-time or work from home on days you do not feel well.

Many employers are required by law to change your work schedule to meet your needs during cancer treatment. Talk with your employer about ways to adjust your work during chemotherapy. You can learn more about these laws by talking with a social worker

Q: Can I take over-the-counter and prescription drugs while I get chemotherapy?
A: This depends on the type of chemotherapy you get and the other types of drugs you plan to take. Take only drugs that are approved by your doctor or nurse. Tell your doctor or nurse about all the over-the-counter and prescription drugs you take, including laxatives, allergy medicines, cold medicines, pain relievers, aspirin, and ibuprofen.

One way to let your doctor or nurse know about these drugs is by bringing in all your pill bottles.

Your doctor or nurse needs to know:

  • The name of each drug
  • The reason you take it
  • How much you take
  • How often you take it
  • Talk to your doctor or nurse before you take any over-the-counter or prescription drugs, vitamins, minerals, dietary supplements, or herbs.

Q: Can I take vitamins, minerals, dietary supplements, or herbs while I get chemotherapy?
A: Some of these products can change how chemotherapy works. For this reason, it is important to tell your doctor or nurse about all the vitamins, minerals, dietary supplements, and herbs that you take before you start chemotherapy. During chemotherapy, talk with your doctor before you take any of these products.

Q: How will I know if my chemotherapy is working?
A: Your doctor will give you physical exams and medical tests (such as blood tests and x-rays). He or she will also ask you how you feel.

You cannot tell if chemotherapy is working based on its side effects. Some people think that severe side effects mean that chemotherapy is working well. Or that no side effects mean that chemotherapy is not working. The truth is that side effects have nothing to do with how well chemotherapy is fighting your cancer.

What are the side effects of treatment?

Not every patient will experience side effects from his or her cancer treatment, and the severity of side effects varies greatly from patient to patient. Most side effects slowly go away after treatment ends because the healthy cells recover over time. The time it takes to get over some side effects and regain energy varies from person to person. It depends on many factors, including your overall health and the drugs you were given. Be sure to discuss any and all side effects you notice or think you are feeling with your physician at all times. In many cases, there are treatments available to decrease or cease many side effects, as long as there is open communication on both sides.

Potential side effects to cancer treatment can include, but are not limited to:

  • Pain
  • Hair Loss
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Lymphedema
  • Changes in Appetite
  • Increased Risk of Infection
  • Increased Chance of Bruising
  • Increased Chance of Bleeding
  • Fertility and Sexual Side Effects
  • Incontinence


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