To Your Health: Ask questions before starting chemotherapy
If your doctor has told you that you have cancer, you may have a lot of questions.
Can I be cured? What kinds of treatment would be best for me? Will it hurt? How long will treatment take? How much will it cost? How will my life change while I’m being treated and after treatment ends?
These are all normal questions for people with cancer.
One question may be what is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is the use of strong drugs to treat cancer. You will often hear chemotherapy called “chemo,” (key-mo). Chemo was first used to treat cancer in the 1950s. It has helped many people live full lives.
The chemo drugs your doctor or nurse gives you have been tested many times. Research shows they work to help kill cancer cells.
There are more than 100 chemo drugs used today. Doctors choose certain drugs based on the kind of cancer you have and how much cancer is in your body.
Chemo can be used for different reasons.
Your doctor will discuss these with you before you start treatment. Chemo may be used to:
♦ Keep the cancer from spreading.
♦ Slow the cancer’s growth.
♦ Kill cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body.
♦ Relieve symptoms such as pain or blockages caused by cancer.
♦ Cure cancer.
How does chemo work?
The body is made up of trillions of normal healthy cells.
Cancer starts when something causes changes in a normal cell. This cancer cell then grows out of control and makes more cancer cells.
Each type of cancer affects the body in different ways.
If cancer is not treated, it can spread and affect the rest of your body. Your doctor may suggest chemo to cure your cancer. Sometimes the goal is to slow the growth of the cancer. Other times the goal may be to reduce symptoms or problems caused by growing tumors so that you feel better.
Chemo is often used to fight cancers that have spread to other parts of the body (metastasized).
Be sure to talk to your doctor about the goal of your treatment.
Chemo kills cancer cells.
These drugs can affect normal cells, too. But most normal cells can repair themselves.
Your treatment probably will use more than one chemo drug. This is called combination chemotherapy. The drugs work together to kill more cancer cells.
What should I ask my doctor?
Because cancer is different for each person, your chemo will be planned just for you.
Work with your doctor to decide what’s best for you. Ask questions. Ask the doctor, nurses and others on your team all the questions you need to.
Be ready. Write down your questions ahead of time and take them with you.
Don’t be afraid to say you are confused or need more information. Nothing you say will sound silly or strange to your health care team. They know you want to learn as much about chemo as you can.
All patients getting chemo have questions. Here are some you might want to ask:
♦ What is the goal of chemo in my case?
♦ How will we know if the chemo is working?
♦ After chemo, will I be cured?
♦ Are there other ways besides chemo to treat my cancer?
♦ If chemo does not work, are there other treatments for me?
♦ How will I get chemo, how often, and for how long?
♦ What side effects should I watch for?
♦ Should I call you if I have any of these side effects — even at night or on a weekend? At what phone number?
♦ Is there anything I should do to get ready for treatment?
♦ Will I need surgery or radiation? If so, when and why?
♦ Does my insurance cover chemo? If not, how will I pay for it?
♦ Will I still be able to work (or go to school) during treatment?
If you would like more information on chemo, please call for a free copy of “Understanding Chemotherapy: A Guide for Patients and Families.”
The American Cancer Society also has detailed information about each chemo drug used during treatment. The society can be contacted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (800) 227-2345 or www.cancer.org.