Starting chemotherapy

Understanding your chemotherapy treatment can help you prepare for your first visit

Your first visit

During your first appointment, you will discuss your diagnosis and treatment plan with your medical oncologist or haematologist. You will have the opportunity to ask your doctor any questions you may have. You will also meet our team of experienced nurses who will discuss possible treatment side effects and how to effectively manage them.

Your family and loved ones are an important part of your support network, we encourage you bring a support person with you during your visit to our centre.

To gain a strong understanding of your diagnosis, it is important to ask questions and a loved one can also ask questions you may not think of. Icon are here to support you and your family through your treatment.


Starting treatment

Most chemotherapy treatments are given in repeating cycles. The length of a cycle depends on the treatment being given. Many of the chemotherapy regimens are repeated in 2-, 3- or 4-weekly cycles.

When it’s time to start your treatment, in most cases, an intravenous (IV) drip will be inserted into a vein in your arm or your CVAD will be accessed by one of our experienced nurses. You may also receive oral chemotherapy, which are pills or capsules that you swallow once or twice a day.

A blood test is usually taken prior to your treatment to ensure your blood counts are at a satisfactory level for your first treatment.

Depending on your treatment, you might also be given anti-nausea medication.

You may receive medications during your treatment that make you feel drowsy. If this happens it is important you have a friend, family member or carer to take you home. You must not drive if any of your medications is known to cause drowsiness or sedation. If you need help with transport please speak to our team, who can help arrange this on your behalf.

How long each treatment session takes and how often the cycles are repeated depends on your cancer and the type of chemotherapy medication being used. It can vary from 30 minutes to several hours long. You will receive the infusion treatment our centre.

What to bring

Having a few personal items can make you more comfortable during treatment. Here is a checklist of things you could bring with you:

Something to read - A favourite novel or light magazine can be a calming distraction. We will have some magazines available too.
Mobile phone, laptop or tablet - Free wireless internet is available throughout the centre to help you stay connected. Bring your charger just in case.
Mobile phone, laptop or tablet - Free wireless internet is available throughout the centre to help you stay connected. Bring your charger just in case.
A family member, friend or carer - All our treatment areas have room for someone to come along for support and company, and give you a ride home.
A bottle of water or some snacks, if your infusion duration is more than an hour long

Some important essentials

Identification card — FIN Number or Passport
Health insurance card (if applicable) and/or Letter of Guarantee (LOG) (If relevant)
Any referral letters and medical reports
Your current prescribed medications including any creams, inhalers, patches or drops
Any medicines bought over the counter or at a supermarket
Any supplements or natural / traditional medicines you take

Frequently asked questions

How does chemotherapy work?

Chemotherapy works by killing cells that are rapidly dividing. While this is effective in attacking cancer cells, chemotherapy also targets normal healthy cells that are rapidly dividing. However, unlike cancer cells, normal cells can repair the damage and recover.

Will my cancer drug treatment work?

Your cancer treatment is developed using evidence-based medicine. However, it is difficult to predict if the treatment will be effective before it begins. Cancer patients can respond differently to treatments based on a variety of factors. Your doctor will closely monitor you and your response to cancer treatment, and modify the treatment if necessary.

What side effects can I expect from the treatment?

Chemotherapy affects patients in different ways. How you feel depends on your pre-treatment fitness and the type of chemotherapy you are receiving. Please speak to your doctor and nurses regarding the specific side effects that you should look out for. Often patients manage to continue their daily lives during treatment, however it is important to listen to your body and not over exert yourself during treatment.

Will I experience hair loss?

Most chemotherapy will cause some thinning of your hair. However, a few types of chemotherapy may cause complete hair loss. Some patients may choose to use a wig, hat or head scarf if this occurs. The hair typically starts to re-grow two months after the chemotherapy treatment finishes.

Can I dye my hair?

Yes, you can.

Will I lose or gain weight as a result of my treatment?

How you respond to chemotherapy changes from person to person, and this also applies to whether you lose or gain weight. Your cancer can also affect your weight and if it changes. Please discuss any concerns you have about your weight during chemotherapy treatment with your care team.

Am I able to take vitamins and complementary medicines?

Certain vitamins and medicines can interfere with your chemotherapy treatment. It’s important to provide your doctor with a list of medicines you are taking, including those bought over-the-counter. Please also let your doctor know if you start any new medicines during treatment.

What can I eat during treatment?

It is not advisable to radically change your diet when you are receiving chemotherapy. For example, meat abstinence is not medically necessary. Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is important during and after your treatment.

Can I exercise during my treatment?

Doing light exercise, such as walking, can help you manage fatigue and improve your wellbeing during chemotherapy treatment. Studies have shown that exercising while you are getting cancer treatment is associated with an improved outcome.

Can I work during treatment?

Most of our patients can and do work during their chemotherapy. Work often generates a healthy sense of purpose and autonomy that is psychologically positive for patients. However, it is important to ensure your level of fitness and tolerance for the chemotherapy complements your work commitments.

Are there certain activities I won’t be able to do during treatment?

There may be certain activities you won’t be able to participate in during your chemotherapy treatment, which will depend on your specific treatment, diagnosis and your blood counts at the time. If you’re not sure whether you should or shouldn’t take part in an activity, please discuss this with your doctor or nurse.

Is chemotherapy harmful to others?

Cancer and/or chemotherapy are not contagious. You can share a meal with others. You may share the toilet with others, although it is probably a good idea for very young children to use a different toilet, since air particles containing traces of chemotherapy drugs may be present right after you have flushed the toilet. You may freely hug your loved ones. Sexual intimacy between couples is usually not a problem if there is no pain.

What is the cost?

The cost of chemotherapy varies according to the type and dose of chemotherapy that you need, and the total duration of your treatment. Our staff will provide a cost estimate before you commence your chemotherapy.

Can I travel while undergoing chemotherapy?

Most patients are able to freely travel during their chemotherapy as long as their travel plans do not interfere with treatment dates. Please do not hesitate to discuss your travel plans with us.

Can I visit my dentist while being treated?

Please inform and discuss with your doctor if you are planning a dental visit.

A simple blood test needs to be done prior to your visit to ensure that you do not have low blood counts.

Helpful Links

Medical Concierge

Icon Cancer Centre Singapore support patients in the Asia Pacific region who are seeking to travel for their cancer treatment.
Learn more

What is chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs that destroy cancer cells. There are many different kinds of chemotherapy medicines that may be used in different ways.
Learn more

Your care team

Every member of the Icon team is here to help. Here are some of the team members you may meet and the role they will have in your care.
Learn more