Chemotherapy: Questions To Ask Your Doctor
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancerous cells in the body. It works by targeting cancer cells that multiply quickly, thereby preventing them from dividing and growing within the body. Doctors will generally recommend chemotherapy after looking at the type and stage of cancer you have.
Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment that focuses on treating the system as a whole and not just a part of the system. Unlike radiotherapy or surgery that is targeted at a specific part of the body, chemotherapy travels through the blood and can thus reach cancerous cells throughout the body.
When will your doctor recommend chemotherapy?
Your doctor can recommend chemotherapy for several reasons, the primary of which will be to either shrink before surgery or radiotherapy or stop them from forming after surgery or radiotherapy. It can be given as an independent treatment also, if it works well against your cancer e.g. in blood cancer. In certain cases, Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer that has spread from where it originally started.
What you should know about chemotherapy
Since the drugs used in chemotherapy target fast-growing cells within the body, they can also attack healthy cells such as blood-forming cells in the bone marrow, hair follicles and cells in the mouth, digestive tract, and reproductive system. They can also damage cells of your liver, kidney, lungs, nervous system and bladder.
These side effects impact different people differently. Factors such as your overall fitness level, your age, and the stage of your cancer can determine the severity of the side effects. Your doctor will most likely prescribe medication to prevent certain side effects.
Chemotherapy drugs can sometimes have severe short term and long term side effects, and risks. Your doctor will require you to sign a consent form that spells out in detail these side effects and risks before beginning treatment. It is very important that you understand the expected outcome, benefits, risks, and side effects of your chemotherapy treatment before you sign this form.
We recommend you ask your doctor the following questions to understand how chemotherapy is likely to help you.
Questions about chemotherapy you should ask your doctor
Here is a list of questions, for three stages of the treatment - the Fundamentals, Side Effects and During-After the treatment stage.
Fundamentals about your treatment
- What is the goal or objective of my chemotherapy?
- Are there other treatments to meet this goal/objective?
- WIll my chemotherapy be given along with other treatments such as radiotherapy or surgery?
- What type of chemo drug will I be given? How will this drug help fight my cancer?
- How will I receive the drug? (intravenously, orally, by injection, or otherwise)
- How often will I need it?
- How long is my treatment likely to last?
- Is there a possibility that my chemotherapy won’t work?
Understanding the side-effects
- What are the short term and long term side effects of this treatment?
- Are there any other risks involved with treatment?
- How do these risks and side effects compare with other treatment options?
- Can medication help me cope with these side effects?
- Is there anything I can do to reduce the side effects?
- Are there any side effects I should immediately report?
- Can there be other unexpected side effects?
- Who can I reach out to if I have these side effects? Can I also call post office hours?
- What impact will chemotherapy have on my sex life? Will it impact my ability to have children?
- Do you recommend being part of a clinical trial? What could the associated risks and benefits be?
During and After treatment
- What should I expect to feel after treatment and between treatments?
- Will I be able to carry on my routine activities or work?
- Will I need to have someone around me during treatment and after treatment?
- Are there any activities or environments I should avoid or stay away from?
- Can I take other non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and supplements during chemotherapy?
- Will I have a specific diet plan during and after treatment? Are there any foods I should avoid?
- Should I be exercising?
- How will we know if the treatment is working?
- What if my treatment is not working?
Make an informed decision
Answers to the above questions will help you make an informed decision about whether you should proceed or continue with chemotherapy. It is a good idea to take notes during your discussion with the doctor. With the permission of your doctor, you may even record the conversation to store important details.
Always ask questions if you don’t understand a certain point. Remember nothing is too small or trivial as your health is at stake. Taking a friend or family member along is always advisable as they can help record important details and provide the right emotional support.