See answers to patients' questions about chemotherapy, side effects, and more. The Glossary explains common medical and treatment terms.
We understand that when a patient is diagnosed with cancer, many questions arise. These Patient Resources below will be helpful in answering a number of your questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much will my chemotherapy cost?
The cost of chemotherapy varies from insurance to insurance. Each plan has a different “co-pay” as well as “share-of-cost”. Once your chemotherapy regimen is selected, the cost will be calculated and you will be able to speak with a financial counselor about the costs associated with your chemotherapy treatment.
What if my insurance does not cover all my expenses for chemotherapy?
There are many co-pay assistance programs (please see this web site) that offer help. If you still have some costs associated with chemotherapy, you will be able to speak with a financial counselor who will help you with a payment plan.
Will my insurance cover the cost of my prescription medications?
Each insurance policy is different in what they cover and do not cover. Many medications require “prior authorizations”. We are very familiar with the authorization process and will assist you in obtaining the medications you need. If your insurance does not cover the cost of your medications, we can direct you to patient assistance programs for help.
What if I have a question on the weekend or late in the evening?
There is always a physician on call. You can call the main number for the clinic (925) 674-2100 or (707) 551-3333 and the answering service will connect you to the physician, or take your phone number and have the physician call you.
What symptoms should I worry about?
Your physician will go over chemotherapy side effects, and you will have additional time with a registered nurse (RN) to review your specific chemotherapy and its side effects. You will be given written information on your specific drugs. It is important to know to call the office if you have a fever over 100.4 F or shaking chills, bleeding or unexplained bruising, an allergic reaction such as wheezing or swelling, any type of sharp unusual pain, or prolonged vomiting or diarrhea.
How will the chemotherapy be given to me?
Most chemotherapy drugs are given to you through a catheter in your vein (intravenously). Some chemotherapy and other medications for cancer are available in pill form.
How long will my treatment last?
Every type of cancer has a specific treatment that has been developed over years of research. You may receive chemotherapy weekly or every 3 weeks. The treatments may be anywhere from 4 cycles to 8-12 cycles. Your physician will discuss this with you. You will be given a personalized calendar with instructions on when to come in for chemotherapy, when to visit your doctor and when to get labs checked. You will also receive a standing order for lab work and a schedule for anti-nausea medicine.
Will I have nausea, and how will it be treated?
Nausea is dependent on the type(s) of chemotherapy you receive. There are now excellent anti-nausea medicines that either significantly decrease or eliminate the nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. You will have an opportunity to talk with your oncology nurse about these medications and which ones are appropriate for you.
Will chemotherapy be my only treatment for cancer?
Sometimes chemotherapy is the only treatment you need. More often, chemotherapy is used in addition to surgery or radiation therapy, or with both.
How will I know if the chemotherapy is working?
Your physician will do frequent tests including physical exams, blood tests, scans and imaging studies. You will have scheduled follow-up appointments to discuss these with your doctor.
Can I take other medicines while I am getting chemotherapy?
Some medicines may interfere with the effects of your chemotherapy. To ensure that your cancer treatment is most effective, it is important to inform your doctor or nurse about ANY AND ALL prescription and nonprescription medicines you are taking, including herbal, homeopathic, and natural remedies.
Will I be able to work during treatment?
Whether you can continue to work, go to school and/or participate in other activities depends on your treatment and how it affects you. Each individual patient is different and how each person responds to chemotherapy is different.
Will chemotherapy affect my fertility?
Chemotherapy can affect the sexual organs as well as their function. It is important to use birth control when on chemotherapy to reduce the risk of an unplanned pregnancy. If you have questions discuss the possibility of “banking” your sperm or having eggs harvested prior to chemotherapy with your physician. www.fertilehope.org
Will chemotherapy affect my sexual function?
Chemotherapy can (but not always) affect the sexual organs of men and women. The side effects depend greatly on the drugs used, the person’s age, and your health and well being. This is an important issue that should be discussed with your physician or nurse.
Will my memory and thinking be affected?
Recent research shows that chemotherapy can affect the thinking functions of the brain causing “chemo brain”. This can occur for up to 10 years post chemotherapy, but usually lasts only about 6 months to 1 year.
What emotions can I expect?
It is normal for you and your family to feel depressed, sad, angry and/or anxious. There are many ways to cope with these side effects; you can obtain support from your physician, your nurses, support groups, a mental health provider, friends and family.
What is a clinical trial? Should I participate in one?
A clinical trial is a carefully designed research study that tests new cancer treatments. These treatments can be discussed with your health care team to see if the trial is appropriate for your specific cancer. As with all medical treatments you can withdraw from a clinical trial at anytime and seek other treatment. Persons who consent to participate in clinical trials are the first to benefit from the treatment. www.clinicaltrials.gov
Will I lose my hair?
Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss. Some treatments cause mild thinning that is barely noticeable. Other treatments cause complete hair loss. Your physician will tell you if your chemotherapy is likely to cause this. If you do lose your hair, it will almost always grow back after the treatment; however, it may be a different texture or color.
Can I drink alcohol while on chemotherapy?
Alcohol may interact with some drugs either reducing their effect or worsening their side effects. Be sure to ask your doctor or nurse if you can drink beer, wine or other types of alcohol.
Should I take vitamins, minerals or other supplements?
There is no clear answer to this question, but you can discuss this with your doctor. You should not take any supplemental medications without your doctor’s knowledge and consent.
Terms often used during the course of treatment along with their definitions.
Antiemetics are medicines used to prevent nausea before is happens, or to treat it once it occurs. They are usually given before and after chemotherapy, and are given intravenously and in oral form.
Blood counts describe the levels of the red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Blood counts usually nadir (drop) 7-10 days after chemotherapy. Some chemotherapy agents cause significant drops in the blood counts, while other chemotherapy agents do not.
Bone marrow is the part of the bones where blood cells are made. It is a liquid filled with bony spicules and is located inside the hard, outer bone.
Catheter is a thin, flexible tube that can be placed into a vein. It allows doctors and nurses to give medicines (intravenously), and allows blood to be removed from the body. A central venous catheter is a special type of catheter placed into a larger vein in the upper chest or arm. It can remain in place for weeks, months or years.
Chemotherapy is medicine, usually given intravenously (through a vein), that kills cancer cells. There are hundreds of chemotherapy drugs and they are used in different combinations to treat different kinds of cancer.
Clinical trials are studies (experiments) that are designed to test therapies for medical conditions. Clinical trials are available for most medical conditions, not just cancer and blood disorders. Clinical trials can be sponsored by the federal government, by the pharmaceutical industry, or both. Clinical trials are extremely important to the improvement of cancer care in the United States and worldwide.
Cycle is the length of the chemotherapy regimen. For example, a 21-day regimen describes a regimen that is given once every 3 weeks. A cycle can range from 1 week to as long as 6 weeks.
Growth factors are injections (shots) that are used to support the blood counts. There are shots to help increase the white blood cells, and shots to increase the red blood cells. Currently there is no shot to support the platelets.
Immune system is a complex system of organs and cells that resists and fights infections and other damage.
Infusion is the term used to describe slow and/or prolonged intravenous delivery of a medicine or fluid.
Injection means using a needle and syringe to push medicine into the body, usually into the tissue under the skin. An injection can also be called a shot.
Metastasis describes when a tumor has moved from its first location to another, different part of the body. The tumor cells move through the blood system, or through the lymph system.
Oncologist is the term for a physician who specializes in treated patients with cancer. A medical oncologist gives medicines (chemotherapy, targeted therapy) to patients with cancer; a surgical oncologist operates on patients with cancer; and a radiation oncologist gives radiation therapy to patients with cancer.
Platelets are blood cells that are made in the bone marrow, and provide the first line of defense against bleeding.
Remission occurs when the disease and its symptoms are partially or completely gone.
Radiation therapy is high-energy beams that are directed at a tumor to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is given by cancer specialists, called radiation oncologists. Radiation therapy is sometimes given before, during or after chemotherapy.
Red blood cells are made in the bone marrow, circulate in the blood stream and carry oxygen to provide energy.
Stomatitis describes when the lining of the mouth becomes sore and inflamed. This is a side effect of some chemotherapy.
Targeted therapy is medicine that has been designed to bind to and kill cancer cells. This medicine is “targeted” against cancer cells. Several of the new targeted therapies are oral medicines. Targeted therapy is also called molecularly-targeted therapy, or multikinase targeted therapy.
White blood cells are made in the bone marrow, circulate in the blood stream, and help fight infections. These cells are major players in our immune system.