You might have some idea about chemotherapy. You might have heard that it is one of the cancer treatments. Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses chemo drugs to kill the fast-growing cancer cells. It may get rid of cancer so that it won’t come back. It may also alleviate the symptoms of cancer patients and you might be aware of its adverse side effects like hair loss. In fact, the fear of the side effects is more widespread than the complications of the chemotherapy itself. But the side effects manifest in every patient differently and largely depend on the type of chemo drugs. We will discuss the side effects in more detail here.
Why does chemotherapy cause side effects?
Chemotherapy utilizes a drug that targets all the active cells of the body. All the cells that grow and divide are active cells. Hence, the healthy cells also become the target of the chemo drugs apart from the cancer cells. The cells such as blood, mouth, digestive system, and hair follicles can be affected by chemotherapy. When the healthy cells are affected, the side effects emerge.
Treatment of side effects
The good news is that the side effects are treatable. You can talk to your medical team to deal with the side effects. Ask your specialist about the possible side effects of the chemo drug and what you can do the prevent or reduce the side effects. Remember that the side effects of chemotherapy are different for every patient. Even if anyone goes through the same process again, the side effects might still vary. So, you must inform your team about all your problems and symptoms during the chemotherapy. You can also keep track of your side effects so that you can use them later.
Some common side effects
Chemotherapy has several side effects. Some of them are:
Fatigue and low or little energy level:
Often fatigue is confused with tiredness, but fatigue is not the same as just being tired. It is fatigue if you are tired for a very long time and your condition doesn’t improve even after resting. It is a common side effect of chemotherapy.
Not all chemotherapy causes hair loss, it depends on the type of chemo drugs and whether you will lose hair or not. You can experience thinning of your hair to balding and your hair might become brittle, lose its color, and even fall out slowly or in clumps. Hair loss usually starts a few days after the chemotherapy and lasts for some days after the last treatment. This side effect is temporary. So, your hair will regrow.
Pain is another side effect of chemotherapy. You may have headaches, muscle pain, and stomach pain. Most pain is treatable and goes away eventually. You can ask your doctor to prescribe pain killers and other drugs to cope with pain.
Nausea and other eating problems:
You may have eating problems like nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and trouble swallowing. These side effects can occur after getting chemotherapy and even later. Dietary changes, supplements, and avoiding specific food can help you with these side effects. You can also ask your medical team to help you with some medications.
When the nerve endings get damaged, it can cause a lot of pain in your hands and feet. Neuropathy occurs when the nerves get damaged. You may feel numbness, tingling feeling and burning sensations in your limbs. Neuropathy might be intense in the case of a few drugs, as per a study.
Mouth and throat sores:
You may develop mouth and throat sores. These sores may be painful, and you have trouble eating and swallowing food. It usually occurs after 5 to 14 days after the chemotherapy starts. You should be careful and avoid getting any infections related to these sores. Inculcate a healthy eating habit and clean your mouth regularly to lower the risk of mouth sores. Mouth sores are only temporary and go away once the treatment is over.
Diarrhea and constipation:
You may have digestion-related problems like diarrhea and constipation. Chemotherapy may affect the cells of your digestive system, hence such symptoms. It can result from a change in your diet too. Maintain a healthy diet and drink plenty of fluids to keep yourself hydrated. Have a diet that doesn’t irritate your stomach and includes roughage to cope with constipation. You can also seek medical attention to treat these side effects.
Rashes and other skin conditions:
Your immune system may get affected too. It can lead to rashes and other skin conditions. Moisturizing your skin can help you to manage these skin conditions. If not, you can always ask for help from your doctors.
You can have breathing problems. Chemotherapy can damage the lungs and make it harder to breathe. Try to stay calm and practice breathing exercises. It will help cope with breathing problems.
Some rare side effects:
Apart from the above side effects, some rare side effects may occur. These include hypersensitivity, extravasation, neutropenic typhlitis, pancreatitis, and acute hemolysis.
Chemotherapy can cause several side effects. Such side effects can vary from patient to patient. Notably, some side effects can be less pronounced and moderate to acute in others. But most side effects are temporary and go away eventually. The side effects of chemo depend mainly on drug type and dosage. So, you can ask your doctor about possible side effects and how you can manage them. Don’t hesitate to share any information with your medical team. You can always seek medical support to help you cope with the side effects.