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Chemotherapy

Cancer treatment medicine, delivered with care and compassion

Chemotherapy—or chemo—is a cancer treatment that uses powerful medicines to destroy cancer cells, control their growth or relieve symptoms such as pain. It may involve a single medicine or a combination of medicines. There are many different types of chemotherapy. You and your health care team will decide together which type of medicine is right for you.  

At Allina Health, chemotherapy is a powerful tool in treating your cancer—a tool that works alongside other kinds of care and support to improve your overall health. Chemotherapy can be difficult. You deserve compassionate, expert guidance throughout your treatment, so you always feel comfortable, informed and in control of your care.  

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Chemotherapy at Allina Health

When you get chemotherapy at Allina Health, it will be part of a larger treatment plan—a plan that you and your health care team will create together. Before you begin chemotherapy, your health care team will do everything possible to make sure you feel prepared. You’ll get instructions on what you should and shouldn’t eat before your appointment, what to bring and other ways to get ready.  

Big decisions, small details

The most important part of chemotherapy is identifying the best plan, medicines and follow-up—and making sure you understand each step of your treatment. But almost as important are the smaller details—the things that make chemotherapy more tolerable. At Allina Health those are things like giving you a tour of the facility where you’ll receive chemotherapy and introducing you to the staff there. Or like flat screen televisions and visitor chairs in each treatment room. Or like valet parking at our larger facilities. These details aren’t medically necessary, but they go a long way toward reducing your stress and calming your nerves—which makes a big difference to your sense of wellbeing.  

Find a chemotherapy center near you.

Types of chemotherapy

There are many types of chemotherapy medicines, each one effective against different types and stages of cancer. You and your health care team will work together to find the best type of chemotherapy treatment, based on your condition and your specific needs. 

Chemotherapy is most often given in cycles. These cycles may last 1 day, several days, or a few weeks or more. There will usually be a rest period when no chemotherapy is given between each cycle. A rest period may last for days, weeks, or months. This allows the body and blood counts to recover before the next dose.

How is chemotherapy administered?

There are many ways to get chemotherapy medicines into your body, including:  

  • Oral drugs. The chemotherapy medicine comes as pills or in liquid form that you can swallow.  

  • Intravenous (IV). The chemotherapy goes directly into a vein, through a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) or a port (a small disk under your skin). 

  • Intra-arterial (IA). Instead of a vein, the chemotherapy is injected into an artery that supplies blood to the cancer.  

  • Injection. Chemotherapy medicine is injected into the muscle of your arm, thigh or hip. 

  • Intrathecal. This is an injection into the space between the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord. 

  • Intraperitoneal (IP). The chemotherapy goes directly into the peritoneal cavity, the area that includes organs such as your intestines, stomach and liver. 

  • Topical or cream. The chemotherapy medicine comes in a cream that you rub onto your skin. 

How to prepare for your first chemotherapy

How you prepare for chemotherapy will depend on which type of medicine will be used and how it will be given.   You and your health care team will talk about your options and create a plan for your specific needs. Here are some common ways to prepare:  

  • Visit your dentist.  It's a good idea to see your dentist before your treatment starts for any dental work or cleanings. 

  • Take prescribed pre-chemotherapy medications, if any. Many treatment plans include medications, such as steroids, to take before you start chemotherapy.   

  • Plan for possible side effects. It is common to have fatigue or nausea after your treatment. So plan ahead for work, household chores, meal preparation, child care and more. 

  • Drink plenty of water. On treatment days, make sure you are hydrated. 

  • Eat a light meal. Eat foods that you can tolerate well. 

  • Arrange for someone to drive you home. 

  • Get plenty of rest. 

What to expect during chemotherapy

 At Allina Health, we do everything we can to make you feel comfortable, secure and supported. From bright, art-filled infusion rooms that promote tranquility to nourishment stations that help you keep your strength up. From stress-reducing treatments like massage therapy to a comfortable lounge for your loved ones. Your peace of mind during treatment is an important part of your overall wellness. 

Here’s what to expect during your treatment: 

  • What happens during chemotherapy? You will sit in a comfortable chair and have an IV line started, either in your arm or in a port in your chest. This will deliver fluids, medicines and the chemotherapy into your body. During the treatment, you can read, watch TV or talk with a loved one.  

  • How long does chemotherapy take?  Each person’s treatment plan will be different. Some treatments can last several hours. Chemotherapy is often given for a six- or 12-month period, but it may be shorter or longer depending on your cancer type. 

  • How many rounds of chemotherapy is normal? 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 one week of chemotherapy followed by three weeks of rest. These four weeks make up one cycle.  

  • Is chemotherapy treatment painful? Aside from the possible discomfort of having an IV line started, receiving chemo should not be painful, though some people do have side effects during treatment.  

What to expect after chemotherapy

Everyone reacts differently to chemotherapy. Many people do not have any side effects or have only mild side effects. Your medical oncologist will talk with you about chemotherapy and possible side effects—and your health care team will give you tips and strategies to manage them. 

  • Being safe at home. Chemotherapy can weaken your immune system, so it’s important to protect yourself by washing your hands often. These medicines are also present in your body waste (urine, stool, vomit and blood) for 2 days after treatment. Learn more about safety at home after your treatment.  

  • Side effects. Side effects happen because of how chemotherapy affects your body. Chemotherapy destroys fast-growing cancer cells, but it can also affect healthy cells such as those that line your mouth and intestines, or the cells that make your hair grow. Common side effects include: 

    • nausea and vomitting

    • nausea and vomiting 

    • hair loss 

    • mouth sores 

    • fatigue 

    • diarrhea 

    • constipation 

    • depression and anxiety 

    • cognitive (thinking) changes  

    • low white blood cells 

    • low red blood cells 

Learn more about chemotherapy side effects.

Cost of chemotherapy

The cost of chemotherapy depends on the type of medicines used, number of doses, how long and how often you have treatment and many other factors.  

  • Does insurance cover chemotherapy? Insurance coverage is different from plan to plan. To learn about your specific coverage, call your insurance provider before you start your treatment. 

  • Does Medicare cover chemotherapy? Medicare covers chemotherapy if you have cancer. Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) covers it if you are hospitalized for treatment. Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) covers it when you’re a patient in a doctor’s office or freestanding clinic. In both cases, you may be responsible for paying part of the cost. 

  • Does Medicaid cover chemotherapy? Medicaid benefits are different from state to state. Check with your state’s program and with your health care provider to find out what is and isn’t covered. 

Some chemotherapy medicine manufacturers offer co-pay assistance and other programs to make treatment more affordable. Ask your health care team if you may be eligible. 

Related links

Source: Allina Health Cancer Care
Reviewed by: Allina Health Cancer Care

First published: 9/25/2019
Last reviewed: 9/10/2021

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