Side Effects of Chemotherapy

The side effects you experience during chemotherapy depend mainly on the particular drugs with which you’re being treated.

Chemotherapy Resistance Testing

Learn how this innovative test can help determine which anti-cancer drugs are likely to be most effective for you, while limiting your exposure to potentially toxic medicines.

Because chemotherapy targets all quickly reproducing cells and not just cancerous ones, the parts of your body that contain rapidly dividing cells are most vulnerable to being affected by chemotherapy. For instance, the cells in your hair follicles and gastrointestinal tract normally reproduce quickly. That’s why some people experience hair loss and nausea during chemotherapy.

The good news is that innovative techniques in giving anti-cancer drugs, such as fractionated-dose chemotherapy, help make treatment more tolerable.

Visit our partner site by Cancer Treatment Centers of America to learn more about breast cancer chemotherapy side effects.

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Temporary Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Make sure to discuss any of the following side effects of chemotherapy with your healthcare providers. There are a variety of medicines and natural therapies available that may be able to dramatically lessen their severity. Most of the following symptoms gradually go away during the recovery period of the treatment cycle or after treatment is over:

  • Fatigue
  • Bruising or bleeding easily
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Mouth sores

Longer Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy

With more sophisticated anti-cancer drugs and treatment approaches, lingering side effects are much rarer today than they were in the past. However, a few people may develop serious lasting side effects such as a weakened heart or secondary cancers, such as leukemia, after chemotherapy.

Hair loss during chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can temporarily damage the rapidly dividing cells in your hair follicles, causing hair loss. You may not only lose hair from your scalp, but also from your face, body, and pubic area. However, not all people receiving chemotherapy experience hair loss to the same degree, even when they’re undergoing the same treatment. And some people don’t experience it at all.

Image Enhancement

Some cancer facilities offer image enhancement services to help you adjust to physical changes during and after treatment.

While hair loss can be one of the most emotionally difficult side effects of chemotherapy, it’s important to remember that it’s almost always temporary. Hair usually starts to grow back about a month to six weeks after treatment ends. It’s common for it to grow back a slightly different color or texture at first.

Here are some tips for dealing with hair loss:

  • If you decide on a wig or a hairpiece, have it ready before you begin treatment
  • As an alternative to a wig, you might consider scarves, baseball caps, or turbans, or simply leaving your head uncovered
  • As soon as you begin therapy, use a soft bristle brush and avoid brushing or pulling your hair too much. For instance avoid braiding or placing hair in a ponytail.
  • Use mild, gentle shampoo and conditioners, and gently pat your hair dry
  • Use a satin or silk pillowcase, which is very gentle to the hair
  • Avoid coloring, perming, or relaxing your hair
  • Avoid using hair dryers, electric rollers, or curling or flat irons
  • Consider shaving your head at the first sign of hair loss, so you’re more in control of the process
  • Use sunscreen or a hat or scarf to protect your scalp from the sun
  • In cold weather, use a hat or scarf to prevent the loss of body heat

Chemotherapy and pregnancy

Having Children After Treatment

Talk to your oncologist if you’re planning on having children after treatments are done. If infertility is a risk, you may be able to preserve sperm or eggs before treatment to use in the future.

Some anti-cancer drugs may damage the ovaries, leading to premature menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, an interruption in the menstrual cycle, and the inability to conceive. After treatment ends, some women regain their ability to get pregnant. But for women over the age of 35 or 40, infertility may be permanent.

Some women are still able to get pregnant during treatment. However, the effects of chemotherapy on an unborn child are unknown, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about birth control before treatment begins.

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