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Cancer treatment

General guidelines for cancer treatment

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Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill bacteria, viruses, fungi and cancer cells.

Learn more about chemotherapy in our health encyclopedia.

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Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high powered x-rays or radioactive seeds to kill cancer cells.

Learn more about radiation therapy in our health encyclopedia.

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Chickenpox is a classic childhood disease. A child or adult with chickenpox may develop hundreds of itchy, fluid-filled blisters that burst and form crusts. Chickenpox is caused by a virus.

Learn more about chickenpox in our health encyclopedia.

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Lung disease

Lung disease is any disease or disorder that occurs in the lungs or that causes the lungs to not work properly.

Learn more about lung disease in our health encyclopedia.

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Herpes zoster (shingles)

Herpes zoster (shingles) is a painful, blistering skin rash due to the varicella-zoster virus, the virus that causes chickenpox.

Learn more about shingles in our health encyclopedia.

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Kidney disease

Kidney disease is any disease or disorder that affects the function of the kidneys. It includes a number conditions, such as kidney failure, kidney stones and kidney cancer.

Learn more about kidney disease in our health encyclopedia.

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Liver disease

The term "liver disease" applies to many diseases and disorders that cause the liver to function improperly or cease functioning. Such conditions include cirrhosis, hepatitis and liver cancer.

Learn more about liver disease in our health encyclopedia.

If you are about to start receiving chemotherapy medicine, or if you are already receiving it, you probably have concerns.

Please feel free to ask your doctor or nurse any questions you have. It is important that you understand your cancer treatment.

Before using this medicine

Tell your doctor or nurse if you:

  • are allergic to any medicines, either prescription or over-the-counter
  • are taking any other medicine, either prescription or over-the-counter (including vitamins and herbal remedies)
  • are pregnant or plan to get pregnant
  • are breastfeeding
  • have ever been treated with radiation or cancer medicines
  • have any other medical problems:
    • chickenpox ?
    • lung disease ?
    • herpes zoster (shingles) ?
    • kidney disease ?
    • infection
    • liver disease ?

If you can, have dental work done before starting chemotherapy or radiation.

While taking this medicine

  • Avoid getting pregnant or fathering a child.
  • Use anti-nausea medicines as ordered; let your doctor or nurse know if they are not helping.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Do not take aspirin or products containing aspirin without checking with your doctor.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages.
  • Do not have flu shots or other shots without checking with your doctor.
  • See your doctor on a regular schedule to check your progress.
  • It is important for you to know that everyone reacts differently to chemotherapy. Many people either do not have any side effects or have only mild effects. Your doctor or nurse will give you further information on your specific chemotherapy medicine and its possible side effects.

Call your doctor or nurse right away

Call right away if you have:

  • temperature higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • shaking chills
  • unusual bruising or bleeding
  • blood in stool or urine
  • nose bleeds
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • uncontrollable pain
  • yellowing of your skin or eyes.

Call your doctor or nurse within 24 hours

Call within 24 hours if you have:

  • nausea or vomiting unrelieved by medicine and/or lasting for longer than 24 hours
  • sore mouth, painful or difficult swallowing
  • constipation or diarrhea lasting longer than 48 hours
  • pain at the IV site
  • burning during urination.

Please call your doctor or nurse if you have any questions.

Source: Allina Health Patient Education, General Guidelines for Cancer Treatment, can-ahc-10730 (4/07)
Reviewed by: Allina Health Patient Education experts
First Published: 04/15/2007
Last Reviewed: 04/15/2007

Going home: Preventing infections while your blood counts are low

At this time your doctor has determined that it is safe for you to go home. But, because of the effects of your treatment, you are more susceptible (likely to get) infections.

Infections can come from around you or inside your body. These guidelines will help you prevent infections from things around you.

When your blood counts are recovered and are not expected to go down again, you may stop these guidelines. Please ask your doctor before you stop following these guidelines.

Always follow good hand hygiene. This is the best way to avoid infection, even when you are healthy.

Remember, even if you follow these guidelines, you may still get infections.

When to call your doctor

If you have any of the following problems, please call your doctor right away:

  • a fever of more than 101 degrees F
  • shaking chills
  • burning while urinating or having to urinate often
  • loose bowel movements for two days
  • cough, sore throat or shortness of breath
  • redness, swelling or drainage in any area
  • nausea or vomiting that lasts more than 12 hours
  • any change that concerns you.

Guidelines to help prevent infections

  • Handwashing: Washing your hands is the single most important protection against infections.
    • Please wash your hands often, including after using the toilet and before eating.
    • Before you leave the hospital, please make sure someone dusts and vacuums your house.
  • Visitors
    • Limit visitors to immediate family members and close friends.
    • Remind all visitors to wash their hands.
    • Ask that friends and family members do not visit if they:
      • are recovering from a respiratory or gastrointestinal disease, or a skin infection
      • had smptoms of the stomach flu (upset stomach, vomiting and/or diarrhea) in the last 72 hours.
    • Children should not visit unless they are healthy. They should not have been exposed to a disease that can be spread (like a cold or influenza) within the last three weeks.
    • Avoid large crowds. If you must be out in public areas, wear a mask.
  • Pets
    • If possible, avoid direct contact with pets.
    • If you own a pet, take it to a veterinarian for a check up, feed it only commercial pet food and don't let it wander out of your yard where it may be exposed to or eat infected food or material.
    • Wash your hands after petting animals.
    • Do not handle reptiles such as turtles or snakes.
    • Do not clean up animal droppings or feces, and do not clean a litter box, bird cages or fish tanks.
    • Keep litter boxes away from kitchens, dining rooms or where food is prepared or served.
  • Food
    • Follow food safety guidelines when preparing foods. Clean food preparation areas, wash your hands, cook food thoroughly.
    • Do not eat raw meat or raw seafood.
    • Do not eat from salad bars or bulk containers at grocery stores.
    • Wash raw vegetables and fruits before eating.
    • Do not share drinking glasses or eating utensils.
    • Throw out old food and check for outdated foods, such as yogurt.
  • Housecleaning
    • Do not do housework that raises dust.
    • If possible, wear a mask or leave the room while it is being cleaned, dusted or vacuumed.
    • If you are in a room while it is being dusted, have the person cleaning use a damp dust cloth to contain the dust.
    • If a humidifier is needed, use a steam vaporizer and clean often. Do not use a cold humidifier.
  • Personal hygiene
    • Bathe every day and wash your hands often.
    • Use different towels from others in your house.
    • Wash your perineal area after a bowel movement. Women should wash the area from front to back.
    • If your skin is dry, use lotion to prevent more damage.
    • Avoid rectal suppositories, enemas, douches or tampons.
    • Shave with an electric shaver only.
  • Mouth care
    • Use a soft toothbrush and soak it in hot water before using it. This will help to soften the bristles. If you have mouth sores, tell your doctor and ask about medicines and a sponge toothbrush. Avoid using floss.
    • You may be told to do mouth rinses with a solution of salt and baking soda.
    • Postpone surgery or dental work.
  • Sexual activity
    • You may lose desire or interest. This is normal.
    • You should talk to your partner about your feelings and need to be intimate in other ways.
    • You may hold, kiss or hug your partner unless he or she is ill or recently sick.
    • You may resume intercourse once your platelet count is more than 50,000 and white cell count is more than 2,000.
    • You may need to use a vaginal lubricant such as K-Y Jelly®.
    • Avoid anal and oral intercourse, which may increase infections.
    • Use condoms to decrease the risk of infection.
    • Birth control is recommended because there is the chance you can get pregnant or father a child while on the treatments.
  • Travel
    • You will need your doctor's approval before traveling.
    • You may need to take extra precautions around food, and drink only commercially bottled beverages.
  • Miscellaneous
    • Talk with your doctor before you get a vaccination when your blood counts are low.
    • Do not receive vaccinations without your doctor's approval.
    • Avoid working in the garden or check with your doctor to see if you may work in the garden while wearing gloves and a mask.
    • Avoid being in construction sites. If you are unable to avoid a construction site, wear a mask.
    • Do not smoke and avoid exposure to tobacco smoke.
    • Do not bathe or swim in recreational waters such as pools, lakes or hot tubs.
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A condom is a type of birth control (contraceptive) that is worn during intercourse to prevent pregnancy and the spread of some sexually transmitted diseases.

Learn more about condoms in our health encyclopedia.

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Birth control and family planning

Which form of birth control you choose depends on a number of different factors, including your health, how often you have sex, and whether or not you want children.

Learn more about birth control in our health encyclopedia.

Source: Allina Health Patient Education, Going Home: Preventing Infections While Your Blood Counts are Low, can-ahc-11502
Reviewed by: Allina Health Patient Education experts
First Published: 07/15/2001
Last Reviewed: 01/11/2011

Cancer treatment side effects

There are many side effects to cancer treatment. Here are ways to deal with these common side effects:

Integrative therapies

Bringing a holistic element to cancer care and treatment

At the Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing, experts in holistic health are trained to work with patients who have a variety of medical issues, including cancer.

These integrative therapists offer care that helps patients focus on restoration and well-being.

"We offer massage, yoga, mindful eating classes, exercise physiology and acupuncture," said Julie Streeter, RN, a certified massage therapist at the Penny George Institute.

Many patients who come for integrative therapies are being treated for cancer of the breast, prostate, ovaries, lung, colon or head and neck.

"Every person is unique. We're there for the patient and can tailor a treatment to where he or she is physically and emotionally," Streeter said.

Source: Healthy Communities Magazine, Fall 2012 edition
Reviewed by: Julie Streeter, RN
First Published: 10/01/2012
Last Reviewed: 10/01/2012