learn about cancer treatments

Preparing for cancer treatments

Find tips that could help you best prepare for your next treatment session

Cancer Treatment Preparation

The type of cancer treatment you receive may be given in many ways, such as by mouth (oral), rubbed on the skin (topical), into the vein (intravenous), or through injections. These tips may help you prepare for your next treatment session, based on the type of treatment you will be receiving.

How to prepare for cancer treatment

How to Prepare for Cancer Treatment

There are many types of procedures and medications that can be used to treat cancer. You may find this list of common types of cancer treatments useful when learning about ways to receive treatment.

Use the tips below to help you prepare for your cancer treatment, whether they are at home or in a health care setting such as an infusion clinic. Remember to ask your doctor for any advice that may be specific to your situation.

Treatments in a health care setting

Some medical treatments need to be given in a health care setting such as at an infusion center, your doctor’s office, or a hospital. Before your first treatment session, you may not know what to expect or what to bring with you. These tips may help you before, during, and after your treatment session.

Before your treatment session

What to Do Before Cancer Treatment

You may want to prepare a tote bag or backpack to bring along on treatment day. Pack items that will help you:

  • Stay comfortable: Bring a sweater or cozy blanket which may help since treatment rooms can often be chilly.
  • Bring entertainment: Bring reading materials, music, or a movie on your phone or tablet but don’t forget your headphones, too!
  • Bring an activity: Bring puzzles, crosswords, sudokus, hobby materials, or card games, especially if you are allowed to bring a companion with you.
  • Bring snacks: Some treatment sessions may take a couple of hours so keep in mind you might get hungry.

On the day of your treatment session

Cancer Treatment Tips at the Day of Your Treatment

If your treatment plan includes taking more than 1 medication, it may be helpful to remind your health care team on treatment day what other medications you are taking, and their doses.

Also:

  • Start hydrating 24 hours before treatment and make sure to keep drinking plenty of water the day of.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast or lunch before your treatment, unless your doctor or team ask you not to.

Remember to ask your health care team about any advice that might be specific to your situation.

After your treatment session

After Your Cancer Treatment

Even though some side effects may be expected, make sure to keep your doctor or health care team informed of any side effects and how you are feeling.

You may also expect:

  • Bruising and slight discomfort at the site of IV/injection site are common.
  • It’s important to remember that medications affect each patient differently. Some people feel tired after some treatments, and some may have more energy. Find out how you may be able to manage side effects.

If you are getting more than 1 type of treatment, keep track of your appointments and any symptoms or side effects you may feel after each appointment. 

Example questions to ask your doctor

  • What should I bring to my appointment?
  • What can I do to feel prepared?
  • What should I expect on my treatment day?
  • How long will my treatment session take?
  • What should I pay attention to after treatment, such as side effects?
        
What should I bring to my appointment?
What can I do to feel prepared?
What should I expect on my treatment day?
How long will my treatment session take?
What should I pay attention to after treatment, such as side effects?    
Start Tracking Cancer Symptoms

Start tracking cancer symptoms

You may have symptoms from your cancer and side effects from your treatment. Consider using our Symptom Tracker to keep track of how you are feeling and share with your doctor so they can help you cope with symptoms or side effects.

Download and print the Symptom Tracker

Treatments at Home

Your cancer treatment may be the type that you can do at home – such as swallowing medicine (oral therapy), rubbing it into your skin (topical therapy), or even getting a shot (injectable therapy). Sometimes treatment given directly into your vein (intravenous therapy) can be done at home, depending on your doctor’s recommendation.

When taking treatment at home, it’s important to take it exactly the way your doctor tells you to. Read below about treatment types that can be taken at home so you can discuss them with your doctor.

Oral therapy

Some kinds of cancer treatment come in pills, capsules, or liquids that you swallow. Because of this, it’s important to make sure you or your caregiver knows exactly how and when it should be taken. Talk to your doctor to make sure you know exactly how much to take, the exact time to take the medication, and for how long you should take it. Sometimes, not taking the medication the right way or at the same time every day may affect how well it works. It’s also helpful to ask what to do if you miss a dose. If you have to take many pills each day and at different times of the day, it may also be helpful to use a pill sorter to help you remember.

Example questions to ask your doctor

  • What if I have trouble swallowing or keeping down the pills?
  • Can the medication be opened, broken, or crushed?
  • Can I mix the medication with food or liquid to take it?
  • Is there a special way this medication needs to be handled?
        
What if I have trouble swallowing or keeping down the pills?
Can the medication be opened, broken, or crushed?
Can I mix the medication with food or liquid to take it?
Is there a special way this medication needs to be handled?    

Topical therapy

Some treatments may come as a cream, gel, or ointment you put on your skin right in the area where the cancers are. This treatment is as strong as other forms of treatment and many also require precautions, such as using gloves when applying it, as well as when storing, handling, and disposing of the tube or container it comes in.

Example questions to ask your doctor

  • Is there a special way this medication needs to be handled to protect me and others?
  • What are the likely side effects? What should I do if I have side effects?
  • How often will you need to see me in person?
        
Is there a special way this medication needs to be handled to protect me and others?
What are the likely side effects? What should I do if I have side effects?
How often will you need to see me in person?    

Injectable therapy

Some treatments may be given under the skin or into a muscle in a needle that is attached to a syringe (as an injection or shot). It is also possible to inject directly into a tumor but only if it can be safely reached with a needle. Depending on the drugs you’re getting, dosage, what you prefer, or what your doctor recommends, you may need to get your injection at a doctor’s office or medical facility.

Example questions to ask your doctor

  • Can I do this treatment at home or receive in a medical facility?
  • What are the likely side effects? What should I do if I have side effects?
  • How often will you need to see me in person?
        
Can I do this treatment at home or receive in a medical facility?
What are the likely side effects? What should I do if I have side effects?
How often will you need to see me in person?    

Set reminders

It may be helpful to download an app or keep an alarm on your phone to remind you to take your medication every day. It also helps to let your caregiver or support system know about it so they can also help you keep track.

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