Chemotherapy: What to Expect
If you have been told you need to receive chemotherapy to treat your cancer, knowing what to expect with chemo is an important first step in your treatment journey. Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC) provides the most advanced chemotherapy treatments to thousands of patients every year throughout Colorado.
Continue reading below to learn more about what to expect during your chemotherapy treatment or jump directly to the section that interests you the most by clicking on one of the questions:
- What can I expect at my first chemotherapy treatment appointment?
- How should I prepare for my first chemotherapy appointment?
- How do you determine if chemotherapy is right for me?
- What side effects can I expect after chemotherapy?
- Will I have other treatments in addition to chemotherapy?
- Who will oversee my chemotherapy treatments?
- How soon will I start getting chemotherapy?
- How often will I need chemotherapy and for how long will I need chemotherapy?
- What should I expect during chemotherapy treatments?
- What is unique about receiving chemotherapy at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers?
After the initial meeting with your Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers’ team to discuss your treatment plan and answer any questions you have, you will then be scheduled to attend a chemotherapy education class. The class will cover what you can expect when you come in for treatments, including how long you’ll be here, what will happen at each appointment, and what to do if you have questions or need help with side effects after hours.
At this class, you’ll also meet with one of our dedicated Patient Financial Counselors about treatment costs, pre-authorization, and insurance. Once your insurance company authorizes treatment, you’ll be contacted by office staff to schedule your first chemotherapy session.
Your care team will give you specific instructions at your chemotherapy education class about what to do leading up to your first treatment, but in most cases, preparation is minimal. You’ll be encouraged to drink plenty of water the day before a treatment, and it’s a good idea to eat a light meal prior to your appointment and to pack a snack to help with nausea. Have someone drive you to your first appointment or be available to pick you up if necessary, in case you are fatigued or nauseated afterward.
For dosing purposes, you will be weighed at the start of each appointment, and your vital signs will be checked to ensure it’s safe to administer the chemotherapy. Once your drugs are ready, your oncology nurse will insert an IV into your hand or arm or will connect an IV line to your port, if you had one previously implanted for treatment. Then, the drugs will be delivered through the line in a slow, continuous manner. While you receive treatment, you can relax in one of our spacious, light-filled treatment bays with reclining chairs, WiFi access, and beautiful views like the Arapahoe Glacier basin in Boulder, the Healing Garden in Lakewood, or Hale Park at our Rose location.
You can expect to be at the cancer center for several hours for each treatment, so you may want to bring something with you to read or watch. Water and snacks are permitted, and you can use the bathroom as needed throughout treatment. Visitors over the age of 16 are allowed, but you’ll want to ask how many people can accompany you at a time as some clinics have larger chemo treatment rooms than others.
When you are referred to RMCC, your medical oncologist and a team of cancer specialists will develop a personalized treatment plan based on many factors, including:
- Type and grade of your cancer
- Size and location of your tumor
- The sensitivity of surrounding tissue
- Genetic components
- Family history
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- Your treatment goals and preferences
After all your chemotherapy medication has been delivered, your oncology nurse will remove your IV and you’ll be free to go home. How you’ll feel immediately following chemotherapy will depend on the type of drug administered and your individual reaction. Some patients report feeling a little tired after treatment while others experience fatigue and nausea. Tell your care team if your symptoms are severe.
Plan to rest for at least the remainder of the day, as well as the day after your treatment. It’s common for chemo side effects to build with each treatment, so if you are scheduled for several treatments in a row, you’ll want to plan for adequate rest and assistance with tasks such as cooking and childcare as your cancer treatments progress.
Your doctor will prescribe medication to help with the effects of chemotherapy, but there are also some steps you can take to reduce your symptoms, including maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in light physical activity when you feel up to it.
In some cases, chemotherapy will be the only treatment needed, but often it’s used in conjunction with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy, or a combination of the three.
Chemotherapy may be administered before, during, or after these other treatments to help their chances of success.
- Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is delivered before surgery with the goal of shrinking a tumor or stopping the spread of cancer to make surgery less invasive and more effective.
- Concurrent treatment is when chemotherapy or immunotherapy is administered at the same time as radiation.
- Adjuvant chemotherapy is administered after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells with the goal of reducing the chances of the cancer returning.
A medical oncologist is a cancer specialist who considers many factors of your cancer diagnosis and all types of available treatments, then creates a personalized treatment plan. This physician, who serves as the quarterback of your Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers team, will determine if chemotherapy is an appropriate treatment for you based on many factors, among them the type of cancer, stage, size of the tumor, location, and personal factors. Your medical oncologist will oversee planning your chemotherapy, determining which drugs will be used, the appropriate doses, the timing and many other factors based on treatment guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
But your medical oncologist does not work alone. He or she is part of a team that offers expertise from many different areas. If you are having more than one type of treatment, your medical oncologist will work closely with the rest of your cancer team, including radiation oncologists and surgeons, to coordinate your care.
A specially trained and experienced oncology nurse will administer your chemotherapy during treatment sessions, monitor your health throughout the treatments, answer questions and help you manage side effects.
When you begin chemotherapy depends on how chemotherapy fits into your treatment plan. If you are having other treatments, such as surgery or radiation, chemotherapy may be used before, alongside, or following those treatments.
If your treatment plan calls for chemotherapy prior to other treatments or is the only treatment in your plan, you can expect to start within a few weeks of your diagnosis. We will help you set up your chemotherapy appointments at the most convenient Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers site at the time you meet with your care team to go over your treatment plan.
You’ll want to take some time to make any adjustments to your work or childcare schedule and other commitments before beginning treatment as chemotherapy often require rest on treatment days and at least one day after your treatment. It is not recommended that you skip any days once you begin treatment, so it’s best to be prepared. One of our licensed oncology clinical social workers can help you understand the impact of chemotherapy on your life and make the necessary preparations.
Chemotherapy treatment plans vary greatly from patient to patient. Chemotherapy is administered in one or more cycles. A cycle consists of the number of treatment days (frequency) followed by a period of rest. For instance, you may have treatments every day for five days and then three weeks of rest to give your body time to recover. That’s considered one cycle.
The frequency, length of cycle, and the number of cycles you receive will vary based on:
- Type, location, and stage of your cancer
- The goal of your treatment: whether it is to rid your body of cancer, slow the growth and progression of the cancer, or ease the symptoms of your cancer
- Type of chemotherapy being administered and dosage
- How well you respond to treatment
Keep in mind that while you will be given a treatment schedule, your doctor may decide to adjust it depending on how your body and the cancer is responding to treatment. As a patient, it’s important not to skip any prescribed treatments. If you experience severe side effects, call us. We have a physician on call 24/7 who can address your concerns and help you stay out of the emergency room.
After the initial meeting with your cancer team to discuss your treatment plan and answer your questions, you will be scheduled to attend a chemotherapy education class at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers that will help you understand what to expect with chemotherapy treatment. You also will have the chance to meet privately with one of our dedicated cancer financial counselors about treatment costs, insurance, and financial aid.
What happens during your regular chemotherapy treatments depends on the type of therapy you will be receiving. Some chemotherapy drugs are administered through an injection, which takes only a few minutes. But most chemotherapy is delivered through intravenous infusion, which is an IV that delivers the medication in a slow, continuous manner into your veins. If you have been prescribed oral chemotherapy in pill form, you can have the prescription dispensed at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers’ in-house pharmacy and you will take that at home.
Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers has provided expert medical oncology treatment to thousands of patients throughout Colorado for more than 25 years. Our physicians are board-certified, and some of our physicians specialize in particular types of cancers or blood diseases. As one of the largest community-based cancer treatment providers in Colorado, we specialize in treating patients with the most current technology and treatment practices that are supported by medical research. We have 20 cancer treatment centers throughout Colorado, many offer on-site laboratory and testing services, medication dispensing (pharmacy), genetic counseling, and supportive care.
Factors to consider when choosing a chemotherapy center include:
- Experience: When it comes to choosing a provider, experience counts. Look for a medical oncologist who specializes in treating your type of cancer, and then schedule an appointment to discuss your diagnosis. At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, we have been treating patients since 1992.
- Timeliness: Once referred, we try to accommodate all new patients within 24 to 48 hours.
- Location: You’ll be making a lot of visits during your treatment cycle, so choosing a cancer center near you is important. RMCC has 20 locations throughout Colorado.
- Affordability: Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers is the largest community-based cancer network with clinics throughout Colorado. This allows us to offer our services more cost-effectively. Learn more about the importance of a community-based cancer network.
- Amenities: At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, our spacious infusion bays are bathed in natural light. Large windows offer tranquil views, and amenities like WiFi access and recliners, make treatment sessions more comfortable for you and any guests (over age 16) you choose to bring with you.
- Insurance: Be sure to check that the facility accepts your insurance. Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers’ dedicated Patient Financial Counselors work one-on-one with you to understand what your insurance plan will cover, what you will be responsible to pay, and what financial aid is available.
- Innovation: New cancer treatments are being developed all the time. Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers is typically conducting dozens of active clinical trials at any given time. As part of the US Oncology Research Network, one of the largest community-based oncology research programs in the United States, we provide access to the latest, most promising drugs and treatments for many types of cancer.
When you receive chemotherapy for cancer at RMCC, you will be in the hands of a highly-skilled medical oncology team that is headed by board-certified medical oncologists who have many years of experience. In addition, your team will include the most highly trained technicians, nurses, licensed oncology clinical social workers, and patient financial counselors who specialize in dealing with chemotherapy patients.