The dose of chemotherapy your doctor prescribes is based on your treatment goals, your general health, and your body's ability to go through the treatment. Receiving the entire dose of chemo your doctor has prescribed, and that you can tolerate, may give you a better chance of getting the maximum benefit from treatment.

Dose Intensity

Dose intensity refers to the amount of chemo given over a specific period of time. If side effects become severe, your doctor may decide to delay your chemo, which will reduce your dose intensity. Reducing your dose intensity should only be done when you and your doctor have considered the risk and benefits in view of your treatment goals. It is important that you talk to your doctor and care team to find out what you can do to help manage any side effects that may cause dose decreases or delays in your chemo.

Side Effects

Some chemo side effects may be annoying, but will not cause you to stop your treatment. But some may. Well-known side effects of chemo include hair loss, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, mouth sores, and constipation. But chemo can also cause more serious side effects that may make you feel very ill. Some serious side effects can even threaten your life. These include side effects that result from low blood cell counts, such as infection with fever, anemia, and bleeding.

Many side effects happen because chemotherapy doesn't just stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. It damages healthy cells too. Healthy cells that may be affected by chemo include blood cells in the bone marrow, cells that line the gut and mouth, and hair cells.

Treatment Interruptions

If one or more chemo side effects become severe, your doctor may decide to reduce the dose or change your schedule of future chemo cycles. Side effects of some chemo that may cause treatment interruptions include problems with low blood cell counts that cause neutropenia, anemia, and thrombocytopenia. In some cases, nausea and vomiting may also become severe enough to delay your scheduled treatment.

Be Proactive

You may not be able to avoid side effects, but there are things you can do to stay as strong as possible:

  • Learn about your treatment plan.
  • Follow your doctor's plan for eating well, drinking plenty of liquids, and managing stress.
  • Speak with your doctor and care team about what side effects you have or may experience and how to manage them.
  • Speak with others who have been through chemo. Ask for advice on managing chemo side effects and staying on schedule.
  • Ask for support and help from friends and family so you can focus on getting through chemo.
  • Learn what can be done to help lessen the chance for treatment delays.

Doing what you can to stay on your treatment plan will help you feel good about your efforts to fight cancer. Speak with your doctor for more information on sticking to your chemo schedule.

  • The Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide can help you understand your
    risk of infection

    Infection can be a serious side effect of strong chemo. Find out the factors that affect your risk of infection. Simply answer a few questions, and then print your results to share with your doctor.

    Use the Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide to find out more.

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