Chemotherapy can cause a range of side effects. It is important that you talk to your healthcare team about your concerns. Keep in mind that side effects depend on factors like the type of chemotherapy drugs that you need, the dose, and the way that they are given. Chemotherapy can be admistered by mouth, IV, or injection into the spinal column.
Side effects can also vary between individuals using the same treatment protocol. They may be related to your type and stage of cancer, other treatments you are getting, and your overall health.
The most common chemotherapy side effects include: Fatigue—You may feel tired or extremely exhausted. Fatigue may be related to the chemotherapy drugs, emotional strain (including depression and anxiety), or other conditions that you may have, like anemia or an infection.Nausea and vomiting—You may feel sick to your stomach and vomit, or try to vomit even if your stomach has no food in it. Nausea and vomiting can happen during or right after chemotherapy treatment. In some cases, you may feel sick days later.Loss of appetite—While undergoing chemotherapy, you may not feel like eating. This may due to medications that you are taking or other side effects, like nausea, pain, or mouth sores.Hair loss—Chemotherapy can cause the hair on your head, as well as other parts of your body, to fall out. Hair loss can happen within 2-3 weeks of starting chemotherapy. Hair typically grows back a few months after the treatment has ended.Flu-like symptoms—You may feel like you have the flu. The symptoms, which can last 1-3 days, may include muscle and joint aches, headache, tiredness, nausea, slight fever, chills, and poor appetite. This may be especially true if you are receiving chemotherapy in combination with biological therapy. Fluid retention—Your body may retain fluid because of hormonal changes from the therapy, the drugs themselves, or the cancer. Retaining fluid can cause swelling or puffiness in your face, hands, feet, or abdomen. In serious cases, fluid can build up around heart and lungs.Eye problems—If you have contact lenses, chemotherapy may make wearing them painful. Other eye problems related to chemotherapy include blurry vision and watery eyes.Cognitive problems—You may have difficulty remembering things or feel confused at times. This can be due to not getting enough sleep or taking certain chemotherapy drugs or other medications.Poor growth—Long chemotherapy treatments can in children interfer with growth.More frequent infections—You may get sick more often. Chemotherapy can damage your immune system.
Your healthcare team can explain other side effects that you may experience and treatment options to make you feel more comfortable.
Remember that you are an individual, and the way that you respond to chemotherapy will be different than the way other people respond. You may not experience all of the side effects that your healthcare team describes. And if you do have problems related to the chemotherapy, there are treatments available, like medication to reduce nausea and vomiting. Work with your healthcare team by sharing concerns that you have and by asking about strategies that can help you get through this challenging time.
Chemotherapy and you. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf. Published June 2011. Accessed March 5, 2014.
Toxicities of chemotherapeutic agents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 11, 2014. Accessed March 5, 2014.
Understanding chemotherapy: a guide for patients and families. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003025-pdf.pdf. Accessed March 5, 2014.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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