Chemotherapy isn't as troublesome as most people seem to think

Special to the Herald-Leader,Dr. Firas BadinMarch 18, 2013 

CB health Column, Badin

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Having a new cancer diagnosis is very stressful, and it gets more stressful hearing you may need chemotherapy. There have been a lot of misconceptions about this treatment. Here are some of the most common myths about chemotherapy and the facts.

Myth: Chemotherapy is given in the hospital, and I am going to be away from my work, family, friends.

Fact: Most chemotherapy treatments are given in a doctor's office as a short infusion.

Myth: Chemotherapy means I cannot work anymore.

Fact: Most patients will continue to work while on chemotherapy. Some might choose to take the day of treatment or the following couple of days off.

Myth: Chemotherapy means I have a terminal disease.

Fact: While chemotherapy is offered for advanced cancer stages for symptom control, it is still given for early stages to decrease the risk of recurrence and to maximize the chance of cure.

Myth: Chemotherapy causes uncontrolled nausea and vomiting.

Fact: Most of the time we can control nausea very well. A cocktail of anti-nausea drugs will be given with chemotherapy. The patient will have some medicine for nausea to take at home, if needed. With this approach, the majority of patients will not suffer vomiting.

Myth: Chemotherapy causes hair loss.

Fact: Most, but not all, chemotherapy drugs do cause hair loss. For example, most chemotherapy drugs used to treat colon cancer and some of the drugs used to treat lung cancer and breast cancer will never cause hair loss. Even with drugs that do cause hair loss, it is temporary, and hair starts to grow back after the chemotherapy course is over.

Myth: Chemotherapy is given only through a vein.

Fact: This is true for most chemotherapy drugs, but some drugs may be given through a vein or by mouth, and both forms are equally active.

Myth: Chemotherapy causes infertility.

Fact: This is true for some but not all chemotherapy drugs. Appropriate counseling should be taken if patients plan on having children. By the same token, female patients should not assume that they cannot get pregnant while on chemotherapy even if they do not have their regular monthly cycle.

Overall, most patients will say that chemotherapy was easier than they thought it would be. Good nutrition, staying active and keeping a positive attitude also play roles in tolerating chemotherapy.

Dr. Firas Badin is a medical oncologist with Baptist Health Lexington Oncology Associates.

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