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Staying on Track With Chemotherapy

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Chemotherapy works best when you get the amount of medicine for the number of cycles recommended by your doctor. It's best if chemotherapy is given on time, with no major delays.

When treating early-stage breast cancer, chemotherapy usually starts as soon as you've recovered from surgery. When treating advanced-stage or metastatic breast cancer, chemotherapy can begin when your doctor recommends it. Chemotherapy usually is given in cycles — a specific period of treatment followed by a period of recovery. The total chemotherapy regimen usually lasts between 3 and 6 months.

Because chemotherapy can last up to 6 months, you might encounter challenges in sticking to your treatment plan:

  • Your treatment schedule may conflict with the demands of your job or family. Getting to the treatment facility also can be a challenge for some people. Both of these situations may make you miss or postpone appointments.
  • Common chemotherapy side effects include nausea, fatigue, and a higher risk of infections. If you're feeling bad from side effects, you may be tempted to skip appointments or interrupt treatment.
  • If you're taking any of your chemotherapy medicines as pills or liquid, it can be hard to remember to take the correct amount each day. This is especially true if you're taking more than one medicine.

Here are some tips to help you stick to your treatment plan:

  • In general, it's not a good idea to skip chemotherapy for vacations or other personal events. But you can ask the staff members at your treatment center to help you plan your treatment cycles so that any events take place when you're likely to be feeling good.
  • If you are working, try to schedule your chemotherapy infusion treatments for Thursday or Friday afternoons. That way you'll have all weekend to rest and manage any side effects you may have.
  • Remember that side effects have nothing to do with how well your treatment is working. Whether or not you have side effects, the chemotherapy is working to try to kill cancer cells in your body. And the medicine works best when you get the full amount of the recommended regimen on schedule.
  • If you have any side effects, call your doctor or oncology nurse and ask for help. You're not bothering them and there is no reason for you to suffer. It's important that your doctor or nurse know about the side effects and they can prescribe medicine to help ease any problems you're having.
  • To help you remember to take any chemotherapy medicines in pill or liquid form, you may want to note when you take each medicine on your calendar. You can use a paper calendar or the calendar feature on your computer or in your phone. Some people program their phones or watches so an alarm reminds them to take their medicine each day.

Read and download Community Member tips for chemotherapy treatment (PDF).

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