What to Expect at Your First Chemotherapy Appointment

Chemotherapy infusion, one of the most common and effective cancer treatments, aims to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells, which divide and proliferate quickly. Hear the word “chemotherapy” and you might immediately think about hair loss, nausea, and fatigue. But the truth is it’s not as scary as you might think. Here’s what to expect at your first chemotherapy appointment.

Expect a few basic tests before infusion starts. When you arrive, you’ll need to provide a blood sample that helps determine your dose of chemotherapy and any other needed medicines. You can also expect to have your height and weight measured more than once, because this is another key factor in making sure you get the right chemo dose.

A Dana-Farber nurse with a patient undergoing chemotherapy.
A Dana-Farber nurse with a patient undergoing chemotherapy.

There’s a lot of waiting. Chemo is “made to order” every time you visit, so it can’t be prepared ahead of time. This means you may spend an hour or more in the waiting area. You may feel like nothing is happening, but there’s a lot involved in getting chemotherapy medications ready before they can be delivered to you.

It’s OK to bring a friend along. Infusion areas have room for a friend or loved one to accompany you, and it’s a good idea to have someone come along for support and a ride home – especially at your first appointment. Anyone who is sick should not accompany you to infusion appointments.

Bring items from to help pass the time. The actual infusion process can take several hours, but you can use this time for your own activities, such as reading, watching TV, or even taking a nap. All patient areas at Dana-Farber have wireless internet access and reading materials, but you may also want to bring items like your smartphone, headphones, a tablet device or laptop, books, magazines, or other reading materials.

It’s OK to be nervous. It’s normal to have worries about a first chemo appointment, but many patients who have been through it will tell you that it wasn’t as bad as they expected. Not everyone experiences every side effect of chemotherapy, and some patients report few, if any, problems. Today’s treatments include improved medicines that minimize many common side effects.

Your first infusion appointment is usually the longest, so plan on a full day. Before you leave, make sure you understand what to expect at home, including side effects and warning signs to watch for. If you have questions, be sure to call your care team. They want to hear from you when you have concerns.

Learn more about how to get ready for your first infusion appointment by watching Dana-Farber’s what to expect at your first infusion appointment video and reviewing our tips for your first chemo infusion appointment.