St. Mary's Medical Oncology - What to Expect
There are two ways a person can receive treatment in the outpatient oncology unit:
- Through a physician referral for initial consultation, and
- By calling for an appointment. All patients are welcome - just call a medical oncology physician office.
Here is a step-by-step breakdown of what to expect when you receive cancer chemotherapy or biotherapy:
The Initial Consultation
Your first visit to Medical Oncology will be a fact-finding session.
Your oncologist will:
- Review any records, scans or lab work
- Order additional lab work, tests or scans, if necessary
- Stage the cancer
- Discuss the findings and prognosis with you
- Formulate a treatment plan
When you first arrive at the office, you should check in at the front desk. You will be asked to complete patient history forms and insurance forms.
Lab Work is Performed
- The lab technician will call your name and will record your temperature, pulse, blood pressure and respirations.
- Your blood may also be drawn for some routine lab work. This initial lab work will examine your blood count - white blood cells, red blood cells, hemoglobin and platelets. Your liver and kidney function may also be examined.
An Oncologist Examines You & Discusses Treatment
Next, the technician will take you to an exam room. The medical oncologist will then meet with you and your family.
The doctor will:
- Review your medical history
- Discuss your cancer, treatment options, and prognosis
- Describe possible side effects of the proposed treatments
Your treatment plan may consist of chemotherapy, biotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, biological therapy, or a combination of these options, as well as complementary therapies.
You and your doctor will agree on the treatment plan. If it includes intravenous chemotherapy or biotherapy treatments, you may receive the chemotherapy that same day or you will be scheduled to receive your first treatment within the next several days.
A nurse will provide you with educational information about the treatment.
Your First Chemotherapy/Biotherapy Session
The chemotherapy nurse will bring you to the chemotherapy infusion area. The nurse will review your medical history and the doctor's orders for chemotherapy or biotherapy with you.
The nurse will then answer any questions you may have about any aspect of your treatment. She will take your vital signs-temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. The nurse will also provide education about the chemotherapy drugs, side effects and side effect management.
- You may choose to sit in a recliner chair or, if your treatment is longer than several hours, you may choose to lie down.
- Your family may wait right beside you or they may wait in the family room.
- You may want to bring a small snack or lunch if your chemotherapy treatment lasts more than four hours.
An IV is Started
Most chemotherapy is given intravenously (IV), through a vein. At your first chemotherapy/biotherapy session, the nurse will start an IV. If your treatment plan involves many IV treatments, you may have a catheter (thin, flexible tube) placed into a large vein that will remain there as long as it's needed.
- You may have the IV started in your arm, or you may have a port placed in your chest for IV access.
- The initial IV solution does not contain any chemotherapy - it is a basic sterile water solution.
You Receive Anti-Nausea Medication
The first medications you will receive through the IV are anti-nausea medicines. Most people receive two different medicines. Some chemotherapy treatments do not cause nausea or vomiting and do not require anti-nausea medications.
Sometimes, the anti-nausea medications may make you sleepy. You should always bring someone with you to drive you home after your first chemo treatment. If your next chemotherapy treatments involve medications that make you sleepy, you will need someone to drive you home after treatments.
You Are Given Chemotherapy/Biotherapy
The next IV solutions will be the chemotherapy or biotherapy medicines. Some medicines are given via a syringe through the IV tubing. Some are infused through the IV pump.
These medicines will infuse quietly. They do not hurt and they do not burn or sting. If you ever feel unusual or feel burning at the IV site, call the nurse immediately to check you and the IV site.
During the chemotherapy/biotherapy treatment, you may talk with your family, rest, read, work a crossword puzzle, or listen to music or meditations. When the treatment is completed, the nurse will flush the IV line with the sterile water solution and stop the IV site. She will place a band-aid over the site.
You Go Home
The chemotherapy nurse will give you instructions on how to call the office or the doctor if you have any questions once you get home.
- Since some anti-nausea medications can make you drowsy, you may need to have someone drive you home.
- You will receive a prescription for anti-nausea medications. You should fill these immediately - on your way home.
- If you do have side effects after treatment that concern you, call the doctor or the nurse to discuss your concerns.