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Discharge Instructions for Chemotherapy—Adult

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Side effects affect the whole body and can include infection, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, skin rashes, fatigue, mouth sores, and diarrhea.

Chemotherapy can be given daily, weekly, every other week, or even monthly. Your schedule is based on how treatment plan and how well you tolerate the drugs.

Steps to Take

Home Care

To help with your recovery:

  • Ask someone to help you with tasks around the home.
  • Limit visitors and avoid people who are sick. This will help reduce your chances of getting an infection.
  • Use a soft toothbrush and mild toothpaste to brush your teeth. Rinse your mouth with water if your mouth is too sore to brush.

Diet

Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. If nausea and vomiting are a problem, try eating bland foods. Slowly eat frequent, small meals instead of 3 large meals. It is important that you eat healthful foods while you are having chemotherapy.

Physical Activity

Your doctor will give you guidelines on physical activity. Exercise can help to reduce fatigue and make you feel better. Balance activity with periods of rest.

Ask your doctor when you can return to work and drive.

Medications

Your doctor may give you medications if you have persistent symptoms, such as constipation or nausea.

If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take the medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
  • Do not share your prescription medication.
  • Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.

Follow-up

Your doctor will need to check on your progress. You may be referred to a therapist or support group to help you cope. It is important to go to any recommended appointments.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occur

Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications such as:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Sores in your mouth, throat, or lips
  • White patches in your mouth
  • Difficulty/pain with swallowing
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Vomiting that prevents you from holding down fluids
  • Blood in your vomit
  • Easy bruising
  • Nosebleeds, bleeding gums, new vaginal bleeding
  • Blood in your urine or stool
  • Burning or frequency of urination
  • Cough, trouble breathing, or chest pain
  • Severe weakness
  • Shortness of breath or cough
  • Calf pain, swelling, or redness in the legs or feet
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge, itching, or odor
  • New pain or pain that you cannot control with the medication you were given
  • Numbness and tingling sensation, or pain in your limbs
  • Joint pain stiffness, rash, or other new symptoms
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or a pimple at the site of your IV
  • Headache, stiff neck
  • Hearing or vision changes
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Exposure to someone with an infectious illness, including chickenpox
  • Weight gain or loss of 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) or more

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

RESOURCES:

American Cancer Society
https://www.cancer.org

National Cancer Institute
https://www.cancer.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.ca

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

Adamsen L, Quist M, Andersen C, et al. Effect of a multimodal high intensity exercise intervention in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy: randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2009;339:b3410.

Chemotherapy. Leukemia & Lymphoma website. Available at: http://www.lls.org/treatment/types-of-treatment/chemotherapy-and-other-drug-therapies/chemotherapy. Accessed March 15, 2019.

Chemotherapy and you. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/chemo-and-you. Accessed March 15, 2019.

Understanding chemotherapy. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/understandingchemo.pdf. Accessed March 15, 2019.

Last reviewed March 2019 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 3/18/2019