Taking care of someone getting chemotherapy –chemo for short - can involve helping to make treatment decisions, making medical appointments, driving to treatments, preparing meals, doing laundry and other chores, providing companionship, comfort, and support, and many other tasks. Knowing what to expect as a caregiver allows you to be helpful while taking care of your own needs too.
If you have more questions after reading this article, talk to the cancer care team. You can also call our Cancer Helpline at 1-800-227-2345.
A: Chemo kills cells that grow fast, such as cancer cells. It may be used to keep cancer from spreading, make it grow slower, kill cancer cells that may have spread to other places in the body, shrink tumors to make side effects better, or cure cancer.
Chemo can also affect normal cells that grow fast, including the ones that make blood, skin, and hair. Unlike the cancer cells, most normal cells are able to fix themselves and recover after chemo treatment ends.
A: There are more than 100 different chemo drugs used today. Which drug someone gets depends on the type and stage of cancer, and other factors or problems a patient might have. Chemo can be given through a vein, called an infusion or IV (intravenous). Chemo can also come in liquid or pill form that’s swallowed, or it can be injected as a shot or rubbed onto the skin.
A: How long a patient gets chemotherapy varies widely and depends on the type and stage of cancer, the goal of treatment, and other factors that might affect how a patient responds to the treatment. It may be given once a day, once a week, once a month, or more than one day in a row. It’s often given in cycles with breaks between treatments to give the body a chance to rest and heal.
A: Chemo can cause many different side effects depending on the drug, the dose, other medical problems a person has, and how they react to it. Most side effects go away over time after treatments end, but some can last longer. The cancer care team can help you know what to expect and how to deal with them. The more common chemo side effects include:
Not every person gets every side effect. If the person you’re caring for is having trouble, call the cancer care team. You can read about more cancer side effects on cancer.org.
A: It usually takes a few days for the body to get rid of the drugs after a round of chemo is given. During this time, wear disposable gloves when cleaning up any body fluids, including urine, stool, tears, and vomit, and then wash your hands with soap and water. If chemo is being taken by mouth, talk to the cancer care team about how to be careful when touching the pills.
It’s best to wash bed sheets and clothes in the washing machine separately from other clothes. Throw away adult diapers and sanitary pads by placing them in 2 plastic bags and throw them away with the regular trash. If you touch body fluids by mistake, wash your hands well with soap and water and ask the cancer care team for advice.
A: Taking care of someone getting chemo can be a stressful time. Studies show that caregivers often neglect their own health. Remember that as a caregiver you must take care of yourself in order to give good care. That means eating well, getting enough exercise, getting medical care including cancer screenings, and getting support when you need it.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.