How Chemotherapy Is Scheduled
Chemotherapy treatment is given in cycles with rest periods between each cycle. Since chemotherapy drugs target fast-growing cells, your body will need time to rebuild healthy cells after each treatment. Most breast cancer chemo cycles are either once every three weeks for standard chemo or weekly for low-dose chemo. Chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer will be given for about 6 months. As you plan your calendar for your chemotherapy appointments, you'll need to allow time for more than just infusion sessions. This may affect how much time you need to take off from work or other pursuits, so understanding how many appointments you will have helps you plan your time and your budget.
Example of a Standard Chemo Schedule
Let's assume you might have a standard regimen of CAF: Cytoxan, Adriamycin, and 5-FU, given once every three weeks. Before each treatment, your medical oncologist may want you to take medications to protect against side effects. Be sure to take these on time as prescribed. On the day of your infusion, plan on about four hours in the clinic. Your blood will be drawn and a complete blood count will be done. All your vital signs and weight will be taken, as that determines the amount of your dose of chemo drugs for that day. Your oncologist will review your blood counts and if they are healthy enough, you will proceed to the infusion room for your chemotherapy treatment. If your blood counts are too low, further treatment may make you more vulnerable to infections or serious bleeding. Your chemotherapy will be delayed until your counts recover.
A Weekly Chemo Schedule
If you are receiving weekly lower-dose chemo, such as Taxol, you will receive a smaller dose than the typical dose given every three weeks. The smaller dose will usually be infused every week for 12 weeks straight. This will add up to more overall chemotherapy than you would receive on a standard schedule. You may also be given a white blood cell booster shot between infusion sessions.
The Day After Chemo
At least one day after each chemotherapy infusion, your blood will be drawn and counted. If there is concern that your red counts or neutrophils are low, you may be offered shots to boost those counts. Chemotherapy can greatly affect your blood counts, because blood cells divide and multiply quickly. Do not miss these extra appointments, so you can recover from chemo with a healthy immune system and avoid anemia and neutropenia.
Sample of a Chemo Treatment Sequence
Here's a sample of how your chemotherapy appointments will be scheduled:
- Day Before: Take pre-chemotherapy medications (if prescribed) to prevent side effects
- Day 1: Blood draw, weigh-in, vital signs, check-up, chemo infusion
- Day 2: Shots to boost blood counts if needed
- Days 3 - Next Cycle: Rest and recovery
Asking For Help Between Infusions
Between chemotherapy appointments, if you have trouble with side effects don't hesitate to call your clinic and ask for help. If you have become dehydrated after a treatment, you can ask for an infusion of saline fluid. Other medications may be given along with the saline, to help with nausea and vomiting. Your chemotherapy nurses should know many tips for coping with side effects, so be sure to ask them for help, even if you don't have a scheduled appointment. Write down your symptoms - along with duration, severity, and how often they occur - before you call for help. This will help your nurses suggest ways to make you feel better.
Adjuvant and Neoadjuvant Therapy for Breast Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Reviewed: 06/16/2009.
Chemotherapy and You: Support for People With Cancer. Questions and Answers About Chemotherapy. American Cancer Society. Posted: 06/29/2007.