When is chemotherapy used?

Getting information about treatment and its side effects can help you to plan and feel more in control. You can ask your cancer doctor or nurse:

  • if the chemotherapy will affect your ability to have children – if this is a concern ask to see a fertility specialist
  • if the drugs will cause hair loss – you can see a wig specialist before this happens
  • if it’s safe to take vitamins or supplements
  • who you can talk to if you need help at home or with childcare.

You can also talk to family or friends about what they can do to help. You may want to talk to your employer or tutors about how they can support you.

Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will talk to you about any tests, scans or check-ups you may need before chemotherapy begins.

Your fertility

Some chemotherapy drugs affect your fertility (the ability to get pregnant or father a child). If this is a concern for you, it’s very important to talk to your cancer doctor before treatment starts. Sometimes your fertility can be preserved by storing sperm or eggs before chemotherapy begins.

Getting a wig

Dental checks

Your doctor or nurse may advise you to have a dental check-up before starting chemotherapy. If your teeth or dentures are in good condition, this reduces the risk of possible problems with your mouth during treatment.

Taking other drugs, vitamins or supplements

Always tell your cancer doctor about any prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins or supplements you’re taking or plan to take. Some vitamins or supplements may interact with chemotherapy drugs and make treatment less effective.

Work or education

It’s a good idea to talk to your employer or tutors, so they can make arrangements to support you and organise your time off during treatment.

Help at home

Chemotherapy makes you tired so you may need help with day-to-day chores. Although it can be hard to ask for help, family and friends are usually keen to do whatever they can.

If you live alone or are caring for someone else, you can ask to see the hospital social worker about getting help.

Help with children

If you have children you may need help with taking and picking them up from school or clubs. Family and friends can usually organise a rota to help. It’s also useful to know who you can contact at short notice to look after your children. We have more information on childcare when you have cancer.

Tests and scans

Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will talk to you about any tests, scans or check-ups you may need before chemotherapy begins.

Scans and x-rays

Some chemotherapy drugs can affect organs, such as the heart or the kidneys. You may need tests to measure how well these organs are working before you have chemotherapy. For example, if you’re having drugs that can affect the heart you may have an electrocardiogram (ECG). This measures how well your heart is working. Or you may have an echocardiogram (ECHO) which uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart.

Some people may need further scans or x-rays to find out more about the extent of the cancer (its stage) before chemotherapy.

Height and weight

A nurse checks your height and weight. Your cancer doctor and pharmacist use this information to work out the right dose of chemotherapy for you.

Blood tests

You’ll have a blood test before each cycle of chemotherapy. To save time, your blood may be checked a day or two before chemotherapy. This can be done at the hospital where you’re having chemotherapy, or by your GP, practice nurse or a hospital closer to home. The results will be ready for you when you go to have your chemotherapy.

Pregnancy test

Women may be offered a pregnancy test before starting treatment.

Back to Chemotherapy explained

Where can you have chemotherapy?

You usually have chemotherapy in a chemotherapy day unit or clinic. If your treatment is more complex, you may need to stay in hospital.