Should I Keep Every Chemotherapy Appointment?

Perhaps you are undergoing treatment for cancer and taking a pill or IV chemotherapy. You have several upcoming doctor appointments lined up and you wonder why you have to attend since you feel quite well.

In actual fact, no matter how one is feeling on chemotherapy, it is crucial to keep follow up appointments as recommended by your oncologist. Here are a few facts to keep in mind:

Chemotherapy can cause side effects and not all side effects cause symptoms.

In other words, you can have a side effect going on, and not feel anything. You may feel something slight and not know that it could be a major problem. Sometimes, changes have to be made to the chemotherapy schedule. Follow up may also involve blood tests to monitor liver and kidney function, bone marrow cell production, and others.

Other medications can interfere with chemotherapy.

This can result in chemotherapy working less well, or causing more side effects. Follow up appointments offer an opportunity to review current medications and alternative therapies (like herbs), to make sure that potential issues are identified and addressed.

It is important to check that chemotherapy and related medications are being taken appropriately.

Not taking chemotherapy as prescribed, or missing doses and then trying to double-up to “catch up” can be problematic. Here I am particularly referring to oral pill chemotherapy that is taken at home. Follow up appointments offer an opportunity for counseling regarding these issues.

It is essential to frequently check that benefits outweigh risk of chemotherapy.

Your oncologist frequently needs to assess your overall health and well being. This enables him/her to make sure that you are in a good position to benefit, and not at too high risk of harm from chemotherapy. For example, an individual on chemotherapy who is loosing weight and getting weaker may be best served stopping chemotherapy for a while. The weaker the body generally, the greater the risk of serious side effects on chemotherapy. New (non-cancer) medical conditions that come up in between visits need to be discussed to make sure there are no implications for ongoing chemotherapy.

Cancer research is very active and there are constant updates.

There may be new research suggesting that chemotherapy should be given at a different dose, different frequency, or that different medications can be used to prevent or treat side effects. There may be new follow up guidelines. Doctor appointments offer an opportunity to make sure that changing standards are included in one’s treatment plan.

Did you ever consider skipping an oncologist visit? Tell us about it in the comments below.