Getting a Chemotherapy Infusion: Step by Step

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Before starting treatment

You'll have your first consultation with your medical oncologist (cancer doctor) and any needed follow-up visits. The oncologist will:

  • take your medical history, do a physical exam, and review all your lab tests, mammography films, and biopsy results
  • make a recommendation about which chemotherapy regimens would be best for you
  • explain the benefits and side effects of each recommended chemotherapy regimen
  • carefully review the treatment consent form with you and have you sign it
  • schedule your first treatment appointment (the timing depends on your unique situation)

On the day of treatment

On the day you get chemotherapy, you'll typically go through a number of steps:

  • You register at the chemotherapy center, much like you sign in for a doctor's appointment.
  • You'll meet the nurse or chemotherapy technician who will be giving you the medicine.
  • You'll have your blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiration rate taken.
  • Your height and weight will be recorded so the appropriate dose of medicine can be calculated.
  • You'll have an IV put in (if you don't have a port or catheter). The chemotherapy medicines are given through the IV. When you've received all the medicine, the IV is taken out. If you have a port or catheter, you'll get your medicine through it and you won't generally need an IV.
  • You'll have blood taken so your number of red and white blood cells can be recorded (called a "blood count").
  • Your medical oncologist will examine you, look at the results of the procedures and then calculate and order the amount of medicine you need.
  • You may get some medicine (called "pre-chemotherapy medicine") to prevent nausea or an allergic-like reaction. You also may be given fluids, which help certain chemotherapy medicines work efficiently.
  • Before the chemotherapy medicine is given to you, the oncology nurse or chemotherapy technician will double-check your name, the medicine name, and the dosage.
  • The nurse or technician will start the infusion process. It can take up to several hours to finish the whole infusion process. Some chemotherapy regimens are given in two different forms. In the CMF regimen, for example, the methotrexate and 5-fluorouracil are given as an infusion through an IV and the Cytoxan is sometimes taken as a pill.
  • When your chemotherapy session is done, the nurse or technician will take out the IV and make sure your vital signs (pulse, heart rate, and respiration) are stable.
  • Your doctor or nurse will again go over any side effects you might expect to have, how to manage them, and will usually give you medicine to ease nausea. You'll be told to call your doctor if you have any severe problems such as mouth sores, nausea that doesn't go away after you take the medicine, diarrhea, or fever. Make sure you know how to contact your doctor before you leave so you can reach someone if you have a problem.

Physically, you might be able to drive yourself home after your chemotherapy session, but you might be more comfortable having someone drive you. The most common side effect of chemotherapy is fatigue or feeling exhausted. You might want to take it easy for the rest of the day (and possibly the day after) you have chemotherapy. Some chemotherapy medicines can dehydrate your body or cause constipation, so it's a good idea to drink plenty of fluids after you have chemotherapy. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages because alcohol and caffeine can further dehydrate you.

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