Questions to Ask Before Starting Chemo

What questions should you ask your healthcare provider before you begin chemotherapy? If your pathology report from surgery came back and your surgeon or oncologist believes you should have chemotherapy, what should you know? Certainly you will have an opportunity to sit down with your oncologist first to discuss the risks and benefits, but unless you've had or been close to someone with breast cancer before, you may be at a loss when it comes to knowing exactly what you should be asking.

If at all possible, have someone come with you to this appointment that can take notes for you and ask questions that you may forget to ask. Prepare your questions ahead of time and share your list with the person going with you. Don’t leave your healthcare provider'/'s office until you have had all your questions answered; don’t worry that you may be taking too much of the practitioner’s time.

Once in treatment, you will get direct care from oncology nurses and other chemotherapy personnel. You will see your healthcare provider at scheduled times. So take advantage of this initial visit to get the information that is important to you before starting chemo.

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Important Questions to Ask Before Chemotherapy

We share a list of some important questions below, but you will likely have many of your own to add.

1. What chemotherapy drugs will you be receiving and how often will you get them?

2. What reactions may you have while treatment is being administered? What symptoms may you experience later on? (In other words, what are the long term side effects of chemotherapy related to the specific drugs you will be receiving?) It's important to note that, while the benefits largely outweigh the risks, some chemotherapy drugs used for breast cancer can raise the risk of heart failure or secondary leukemia.

3. What are the possible side effects after each treatment and will you be medicated for them? It's also helpful to ask about any potential long-term side effects of chemotherapy; side effects that may persist or may not occur for months or years after treatment.

4. Will the chemotherapy drugs result in your losing hair, eyebrows, eyelashes?

5. Will you have prescriptions that need to be filled? If you run low, who should you call?

6. How long will you be at the chemotherapy clinic for each treatment?

7. What can you eat before each chemotherapy session? Some recent studies have found that fasting for several hours prior to chemotherapy (intermittent fasting) may decrease side effects. Ask your oncologist if she believes this would be beneficial for you.

8. If you take medications daily, will you take them the day of your treatment?

9. If there any over-the-counter medications you take regularly, or any supplements, share this with the healthcare provider. Find out if these medications must be stopped during treatment. For example, even some vitamins and minerals are not recommended during chemotherapy as they could interfere with the effects of the drugs.

10. How can you get a hold of the healthcare provider, if you need to, during the day or evening?

Things to Do Before Starting Chemotherapy

There are also several things that it's wise to do before you begin your infusions.

See the Dentist

Chemotherapy medications can put you at risk when it comes to getting infections. It is best not to have dental work during treatment if at all possible; have all necessary work done beforehand. Your dentist can also offer advice on coping with mouth side effects from chemo, such as mouth sores and taste changes. This is also of importance if you are postmenopausal and will be using a medication called Zometa when you are done with chemotherapy.

Have a PAP Smear 

It is best to have your annual PAP before chemotherapy begins. Sometimes chemotherapy can cause a false-positive reading.

Buy a Wig

Go wig shopping with a family member or friend before you lose your hair. The wig stylist can match your hair color easier this way (although this can be an opportunity to try a different color or style if you wish). Most cancer centers have lists of wig retailers recommended by former patients. Avoid buying wigs online; wigs need to be tried on to check the fit and often need to be trimmed.

Check with your insurance company to see whether they will pay for a wig; if they do, you will need your healthcare provider to write a prescription for a "cranial prosthesis." 

Make Plans for Getting to and from Chemotherapy

Ask a family member or friend to take you to and from treatments until you know how you will react to the chemo medications. If this person can stay with you, during treatment, that would be even better. Many people look back fondly at the time they had visiting with friends during infusions. Planning to spend that time nurturing your friendships is one way to coax a silver lining out of your cancer diagnosis.

Keep What you Wear to Treatment Comfortable

Treatment can last a few hours. You usually sit on a recliner chair, so you can stretch out and even sleep. 

Speak With Your Employer

If you work outside of your home, you need to make your employer aware of your treatment regime and how it may impact on your work schedule. It may be possible for you to parts of your job from home, or to have a flex schedule that accommodates the time you must take treatment.

If working is not a possibility, speak with someone in the human resources department at your company about The Family and Medical Leave Act. You don’t want to quit your job; your insurance benefits can help cover the significant costs related to chemotherapy. Before you speak to anyone in human resources, speak to a social worker at your treatment center and learn more about your options.

Make Child-Care Arrangements

If you have small children, you will need someone to care for them on the days you are receiving treatment, not only when you are in the treatment center, but when you return home. You will need to have someone drop off and pick up your school-age children on the days you get chemotherapy.

Fill the Freezer

Accept offers from others willing to prepare meals that can be frozen and then defrosted and consumed at a later date. Ask that dishes not be spicy or strong smelling as they might be hard to tolerate when you are not feeling well. If you are cooking, plan menus that are easy and won’t sap your energy.

Ask For and Accept Help With Day to Day Activities

Friends and family feel better when you suggest what you need help with during chemo. Help that is most often needed includes:

  • Grocery shopping and meal preparations 
  • Childcare in-home and after school
  • House cleaning
  • Errands
  • Spending time being there for you

A Word From Verywell

Preparing ahead for chemotherapy by writing down a list of questions and doing some of the activities above can be priceless. Nobody knows exactly how they will respond to chemotherapy. But even if you have few problems and feel good throughout your treatments, preparing ahead will help reduce the added stress in your life.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bowles EJA, Wellman R, Feigelson HS, et al. Risk of heart failure in breast cancer patients after anthracycline and trastuzumab treatment: a retrospective cohort study. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2012;104(17):1293-1305. doi:10.1093/jnci/djs317

  2. Vernieri C, Fucà G, Ligorio F, et al. Fasting-mimicking diet is safe and reshapes metabolism and antitumor immunity in patients with cancerCancer Discov. 2022;12(1):90-107. doi:10.1158/2159-8290.CD-21-0030

  3. Safaie E, Matthews R, Bergamaschi R. PET scan findings can be false positive. Tech Coloproctol. 2015;19(6):329-330. doi:10.1007/s10151-015-1308-3

Additional Reading

By Jean Campbell, MS
Jean Campbell, MS, is a breast cancer survivor and advocate, and the founding director of the American Cancer Society Patient Navigator Program.