• Chemotherapy

    Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Care

    When you think about cancer treatment, chemotherapy may be the first method that comes to mind. Chemotherapy involves using medication to help eliminate cancer cells and keep them from multiplying in your body.

    The most common ways to receive chemotherapy are through infusion or through pills you can take at home (oral chemotherapy).

    a patient receiving an infusion - large


    If you have chemotherapy by infusion, the medication is delivered by an infusion "pump," entering your bloodstream through a needle in your vein, a port, or catheter.

    You'll receive your treatment in a comfortable reclining chair or a bed. At Dana-Farber, we offer lunch, complimentary snacks, and beverages to our patients during chemotherapy.

    Because your pump is on wheels, you may be able to walk around while receiving your treatment. Your sessions last between one and several hours, and are generally scheduled at one- to three-week intervals.

    You might receive additional medications and treatments (such as hydration) through infusion.

    Oral chemotherapy

    Cancer-fighting drugs are increasingly available as pills or capsules, giving you more control over your care and a break from hospital visits. But when you are responsible for your own chemotherapy, you're also at risk for making a mistake. If you don't feel well, you might not take it. Or you might forget.

    If you are taking oral chemotherapy, your doctor and nurse will check in regularly with you to see if you have side effects. We may ask you to keep a diary of your treatments or bring your pills to an office visit to make sure you've taken the right number. We apply the same safeguards for oral chemotherapy as we do for infusions.

    Most oral chemotherapy medicine is stored at room temperature, away from heat or moisture. We will let you know if your medication needs special storage or handling. Keep this medicine in its original container, in a safe place, away from other family medications and beyond the reach of children or pets.

    Your infusion appointment

    The length of chemotherapy infusions can vary. Your nurse or doctor will let you know how long your treatment may take. If possible, try to make your appointment before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m., as the middle of the day can be busy.

    Juices, fruit, sandwiches, pastries, coffee, and tea are available throughout the day. Our friendly volunteers serve drinks, refreshments, and lunch. You can also bring your own snacks from home, or purchase some in our cafeteria.

    You may bring one family member or friend to your infusion appointment. Children are welcome in the adult infusion areas if they are accompanied by another adult.

    It's a good idea to bring books, magazines, puzzles, a laptop computer, or portable music (with earphones) to help pass the time. Our infusion areas have wireless internet access. We also offer iPads for patients to use during treatment visits.

    Chemotherapy phone numbers

    Emergencies: call 617-632-3352 and ask for the adult oncology fellow on call.
    Clinical Research Center 617-632-5952 


    Monday – Friday: All infusion areas are open from 7:00 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
    Saturday and Sunday: All patients are seen on Yawkey 8 from 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
    Holidays: All patients are seen on Yawkey 8 from 7:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

    Infusion locations

    Yawkey 7 Infusion – Gastrointestinal Oncology, Multiple Myeloma and Non-Malignant Hematology
    Phone number 857-215-0700 

    Yawkey 8 Infusion – Hematologic Malignancies, Bone Marrow Transplant and Neuro-Oncology
    Phone number 857-215-0800 

    Yawkey 9 Infusion – Breast Oncology Center, Sarcoma and Genitourinary Oncology
    Phone number 857-215-0900 

    Yawkey 10 Infusion – Gynecologic Oncology, Thoracic Oncology and Head and Neck Oncology
    Phone number 857-215-1000 

    Side effects

    Some patients experience side effects from chemotherapy, such as hair loss, nausea, or fatigue.

    Side effects are usually caused by the activity of anti-cancer drugs in your normal cells, especially cells that multiply rapidly, such as those in your bone marrow, mouth, stomach, intestines, hair follicles, and reproductive cells (sperm and egg).

    Most side effects can be managed, so it's important to listen to your body during treatment and talk with your doctor or nurse about any changes you notice.

    Protect yourself from germs and complications

    When you're receiving chemotherapy, you may be more likely to catch colds, flu, and other contagious diseases. You can protect yourself and help us protect other patients while you're at Dana-Farber.

    • Friends or family members who are sick should not accompany you to infusion appointments.
    • Friends or family members who have been exposed to a contagious illness such as flu should wait three weeks before coming with you to your infusion.
    Please notify your physician if you have:
    • Fever above 100.5 F
    • Unusual bruising or bleeding
    • Unusual dizziness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and/or excessive fatigue
    • Persistent nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation lasting more than 48 hours after chemotherapy
    • Persistent mouth sores or painful swallowing

    Patient safety

    Patient safety is a priority for Dana-Farber, especially when your care involves chemotherapy. We have many systems in place to enhance the safety of our patients, including a computerized ordering system and bar-coded medications that help us make sure you are getting the right one. We encourage you to help make your experience safer by speaking up if something doesn't seem right.

    Clinical research

    Sometimes chemotherapy is given as part of a clinical trial, in which researchers are studying the safety or effectiveness of the medication. If you are participating in a clinical trial, your infusion might take place in Dana-Farber's Clinical Research Center instead of on one of the main infusion floors.

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