1. What is cancer?

Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide as needed by the body. Cancer cells have the ability to divide without control and often invade surrounding tissue or spread to other parts of the body. Sometimes these cells collect and form masses called tumors. Tumors may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The type of treatment depends on the type, stage and location of the cancer, whether the disease has spread, the patient's age, general overall health, and other factors.

2. What are some of the common signs and symptoms of cancer?

Following is a list of signs and symptoms that may indicate cancer; however, this list is by no means all inclusive. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is recommended that you see a physician.

  • Thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body
  • Obvious change in a wart or mole
  • A sore that does not heal
  • Persistent cough or hoarseness in voice
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Indigestion or difficulty swallowing
  • Unexplained changes in weight or change in appetite
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • Unexplained pain or discomfort

3. Is there a blood test to check for cancer?

There is no specific blood test to check to see if a person has cancer. Certain types of cancers can cause blood disorders. However, a diagnosis of cancer would not be made on these blood tests alone, since conditions other than cancer can also cause similar disorders in the blood.

4. How long has my cancer been present?

Cancer cells divide at different rates. It is difficult to establish exactly how long your cancer has been present. However, treatment is likely to be more effective when cancer is detected in its early stages.

5. What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a group of medications given to attack rapidly dividing cells. The type of chemotherapy drugs given is based on the disease or cellular make up. One chemotherapy drug may work well with breast cancer cells while another works well with colon cancer cells. However, chemotherapy drugs also effect normal healthy cells in this process.

6. How is chemotherapy given?

Chemotherapy can be taken as a pill, or more commonly, given as an injection or infusion through your veins. The way your treatment is given as well as the type of chemotherapy drugs selected for you by your physician depends on the type, location, and stage of your specific disease.

7. How will chemotherapy effect me?

Not all chemotherapy medications have the same side effects. You will receive specialized teaching regarding the chemotherapy drugs you will be given. Your questions about side effects, when to call the doctor, the length of your treatment, and many more questions will be answered during your teaching session.

8. What is adjuvant therapy?

Adjuvant therapy is the use of additional treatment after your primary therapy to eradicate unseen cancer cells.

9. How many treatments will I receive?

The number of treatments you will receive depends on the type, location and stage of cancer being treated, how well you are responding to the treatment, and how well you are tolerating the therapy. Your doctor will decide what method is best to use to treat your cancer. Often, one or more methods are used. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or any combination of these therapies may be used.

10. How long will my treatments last?

Your treatment can take from a few minutes to several hours depending on what medications are being administered. Your doctor or nursing staff can give you a better idea of the length of time it will take for your specific treatment.

11. How often will I be treated?

Treatment schedules depend on the disease being treated. Some schedules involve daily treatments and some may be only once a month.

12. Can I eat in the office while I am getting my chemotherapy treatments?

Depending on the type of chemotherapy drugs you will be receiving, you may be in our office for several hours. You may bring a light lunch with you.

13. Can I drive to and from the office after receiving my treatment?

It is recommended that you do not drive the day you are getting your treatments. Sometimes you are given medications that may cause drowsiness. For your safety, we recommend you have a friend or family member drive for you. If you do not have transportation, we can make arrangements with the American Cancer Society's Volunteer Driving Program to assist you.

14. Will I need an IV access device?

The term IV means use of the veins for treatment, typically veins in the arm. Port-a-caths or ports are devices surgically inserted into the chest wall when the veins in the arms cannot be easily used. Your doctor or nurse will determine the need for a port-a-cath. Port-a-caths are frequently recommended for patients undergoing treatment on a daily basis or if the patient has poor venous access ("bad veins").

15. Can I work during treatment?

Most patients reduce their work schedule or do not work at all during treatment. Some patients, however, continue to work if their job is not physically demanding.

16. Will chemotherapy make me sick?

Not all chemotherapy causes nausea. There are now several medications called antiemetics that will prevent nausea caused by certain chemotherapy medications. Your doctor will prescribe the appropriate antiemetic for you before your treatment. If necessary, antiemetic medications will be given to you to take home.

17. Will chemotherapy make me lose my hair?

There are certain chemotherapy drugs that will cause you to lose your hair completely or cause hair thinning. You will be told, if you are receiving a chemotherapy drug that causes hair loss. Once you have finished your treatments, your hair should begin to grow again. However, not all chemotherapy drugs cause you to lose your hair.

18. Can I color or perm my hair?

It is recommended that you do not color or perm your hair while receiving chemotherapy treatment. The chemicals may interact with the chemotherapy drugs and cause damage to the hair roots.

19. Will chemotherapy interfere with my sexual activity?

Some patients experience fatigue related to their chemotherapy. This may temporarily interfere with both your desire and ability to have sex. There are medications, which help with this fatigue. It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if this becomes a problem for you.

20. Can I take vitamins?

It is okay to take a multivitamin during your treatment. Maintaining good nutrition and a healthy diet is extremely important. However, you need to tell your doctor if you are taking vitamins and any herbal medication. Some vitamins and herbs can interact with the chemotherapy medication you are given.

21. What does a fingerstick blood test check?

A fingerstick blood test is a small sample of blood taken from your finger at each visit. This test evaluates your red blood cells (oxygen carrying), white blood cells (infection fighting), and platelets (cells that allows your blood to clot when needed). This test is a valuable tool that the doctor uses to see how your blood cells are tolerating your treatment.