Healthy Living

What are the Side Effects of Chemotherapy?

What are the Side Effects of Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a treatment method which makes use of certain drugs in treating cancer. It plays a number of roles in the body as part of the treatment mechanism. This may include killing cancer cells, reducing their rate of spreading or shrinking the tumors to reduce the recurrence and multiplication of cancer cells to other parts of the body.

There are different types of chemotherapy treatments. Each and every type of chemotherapy is accompanied by its own advantages and disadvantages. However, it is important to note that there are some side effects caused by this treatment.

The side effects may vary from person to person. They also last for different duration. Some are short-term, lasting for just a few days or weeks while others are long-term and can last for months.

Side effects caused by chemotherapy depend on the following factors:

  • The dose you receive
  • Type of drug administered during the treatment
  • Your overall health
  • Method used in administering the drug


     1. Sore Mouth

This is an effect that happens as a result of the drugs given especially if you are receiving high doses. This occurs as a result of reaction of the cells in the mouth. It is also called oral mucositis or stomatitis. Stomatitis is known to last for few weeks before it heals by itself especially when nearing the end of medication.

Other effects associated with this are ulcers, infection or painful sores in the mouth, gums and throat. However, a doctor can recommend painkillers to relieve these effects.


     2. Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting is an effect that lasts for a short period of time. In most cases, nausea and vomiting will take just 24hrs to be over. It happens just a few hours after chemotherapy drugs are taken. However, you should note that not all chemotherapy drugs cause nausea and vomiting.

There are also chances of one experiencing anticipatory nausea. This happens after receiving few treatments. One may feel nauseated before treatment is done as they expect to be ill.


    3. Diarrhea

Diarrhea is mostly caused by a combination of chemotherapy drugs. These drugs affect the gastrointestinal tract line resulting in diarrhea. It also depends on the dose and the type of drugs taken for chemotherapy. This mostly occurs shortly after the treatment is begun and can last for a few weeks.


    4. Dehydration

Dehydration occurs mostly as a result of other side effects such as vomiting, fever and diarrhea. It happens especially in children who are unable to drink enough water.

Here are some signs of dehydration.

  • Feeling thirsty
  • Weight loss
  • Light headedness or weakness
  • Dry mouth or skin
  • Passing of small amounts of urine

For infants they may include the following.

  • Very few wet diapers
  • No tears when crying
  • Anterior fontanel


     5. Fatigue

You may feel tired than usual. It can be caused by a number of things. However, in the case of chemotherapy, it is mostly caused by toxic substances released by the breakdown of cancer cells. It may last for some time even after the treatment cycle is over.

Here are some signs of fatigue in adolescents.

  • Lacking energy
  • Mentally and physically tired
  • Sleepiness
  • Feeling “not yourself”


     6.  Hair Loss

It is also called alopecia and does not happen for all drugs. It is an effect that frightens a lot of people. Losing of hair happens since the hair follicles are very much vulnerable to chemotherapy drugs. The loss of hair mostly starts during the treatment. It is also possible to lose hair from any part of your body. However, the hair starts growing back again after the treatment is over.


     7. Bone Marrow Suppression 

This is a type of condition where some blood cell types are decreased. These may include:

  • Thrombocytopenia- decreased number of platelets. This condition will increase the risk of bruising and bleeding.
  • Anemia- decreased number of red blood cells. It leads to paleness, fatigue and malaise.
  • Neutropenia- decreased number of white blood cells. It causes the risk for infections.

Bone marrow suppression is one of the most dangerous side effects of chemotherapy. However, this can be reduced by changing the type of chemotherapy drugs administered.


    8. Inflammation of the Mucous Membranes 

It is a more serious side effect since the mucous membrane is found in many organs of the body. It happens when the chemotherapy drugs damage the mucous membrane leading to inflammation. This will result in several effects in the body such as bleeding, ulcers and infection of the colon, vagina and the esophagus.

Other effects that may arise are heartburn, pain in the abdomen and difficulties when swallowing. If there are any cases of vaginal discharge, odor, pain, itching or bleeding then it should also be reported immediately.


   9.  Changes in the Taste and Smell

This is where some of the drugs alter your brain’s perception for certain foods. As a result of this, some foods that tasted good before the treatment will start tasting bad to you. One will also produce a certain smell that is always associated with the type of drugs taken. These effects can last for some months.

    10.  Pain

There are a number of painful effects caused by chemotherapy drugs. They include headaches, stomachaches, joint and muscle aches. You may also experience numbness, burning and tingling sensations in your feet or hands.


Other Side Effects of Chemotherapy

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, chemotherapy is a serious and a complex treatment procedure. Make sure to prepare yourself effectively before undergoing treatment. Also, make sure to discuss with your doctor about the possible ways to deal with the side effects. Most of these side effects should last for a short period. If you notice any unusual or severe effect, call a doctor.

Key Takeaways

  • Side effects of chemotherapy.
  • Complications caused by chemotherapy.
  • Factors which cause the side effects of chemotherapy.