Discharge Instructions for Chemotherapy

Your healthcare provider prescribed a type of medicine therapy for you called chemotherapy. Healthcare providers prescribe chemotherapy for many different types of illnesses, including cancer. There are many types of chemotherapy. This sheet provides general guidelines on how you can take care of yourself after your chemotherapy.

Mouth care

Don’t be discouraged if you get mouth sores, even if you are following all your healthcare provider’s instructions. Many people get mouth sores as a side effect of chemotherapy. Here’s what you can do to prevent mouth sores:

  • Keep your mouth clean. Brush your teeth with a soft-bristle toothbrush after every meal.

  • Ask if you should use a toothpaste with fluoride, or a mixture of 1 teaspoon of salt in 8-ounces of water to brush your teeth. 

  • Use an oral swab or special soft toothbrush if your gums bleed during regular brushing.

  • Don't use dental floss if it causes your gums to bleed.

  • Use any mouthwashes given to you as directed.

  • If you can’t tolerate regular methods, use salt and baking soda to clean your mouth. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 quart of warm water. Swish and spit.

  • If you wear dentures, you may be told to wear them only when you eat, ask your healthcare provider. Clean dentures twice a day and soak in antimicrobial solution when you aren't wearing them. Rinse your mouth after each meal. 

  • Watch your mouth and tongue for white patches. This may be a sign of a type of yeast infection (thrush), a common side effect of chemotherapy. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about these patches. Medicine can be prescribed to treat it.

Other home care

Here's what else you can do:

  • Try to exercise. Exercise keeps you strong and keeps your heart and lungs active. Walking and yoga are good types of exercise. 

  • Keep clean. During chemotherapy, your body can’t fight infection very well. Take short baths or showers.

    • Wash your hands before you eat and after going to the bathroom.

    • Use moisturizing soap. Chemotherapy can make your skin dry.

    • Apply moisturizing lotion several times a day to help relieve dry skin.

    • Don’t take very hot or very cold showers or baths.

  • Don’t be surprised if your chemotherapy causes slight burns to your skin—usually on the hands and feet. Some medicines used in high doses cause this to happen. Ask for a special cream to help relieve the burn and protect your skin.

  • Avoid people who are sick with illnesses and diseases you could catch, such as colds, flu, measles, or chicken pox as well as people who have recently had vaccinations for these illnesses. 

  • Let your healthcare provider know if your throat is sore. You may have an infection that needs treatment.

  • Remember, many patients feel sick and lose their appetites during treatment. Eat small meals several times a day to keep your strength up:

    • Choose bland foods with little taste or smell if you are reacting strongly to food.

    • Be sure to cook all food thoroughly. This kills bacteria and helps you avoid infection.

    • Eat foods that are soft. Soft foods are less likely to cause stomach irritation.

    • Try to eat a variety of foods for a well-balanced diet. Drink plenty of fluids and eat foods with fiber to avoid constipation. 

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Unexplained bleeding

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Ongoing fatigue

  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, trouble breathing, or bad cough

  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat, or chest pain

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness

  • Constant feeling of being cold

  • Hives or a cut or rash that swells, turns red, feels hot or painful, or begins to ooze

  • Burning when you urinate

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider