15 Serious Side Effects Of Chemotherapy January 31, 2017

Cancer claims millions of lives worldwide every year. No matter the race, age and ethnicity, cancer can claim anyone as its victim. Cancer sounds scary, but with timely diagnosis and treatment, the dreaded disease need not be a killer.

Chemotherapy is often used to treat cancer patients. This involves usage of various drugs to destroy fast spreading cancer cells in the body of a victim.

What Is Chemotherapy:

When cells die or get damaged, the human body produces new cells to replace them. This is a usual process, but cancer cells tend to grow and divide in an unbalanced and random manner. Chemotherapy prevents the ability of cancer cells to reproduce and spread randomly. These drugs can be orally administered or given intravenously.

Now, the downside is that along with cancer affected cells, chemotherapy drugs can also affect healthy cells. As a result, usage of chemotherapy drugs can cause some adverse effects on the human body. What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

Let’s have a look at chemotherapy side effects:

There are many chemotherapy drugs that are used to treat various types of cancer nowadays. Not all cancer victims administered with this therapy undergo the same side effects. The severity and duration of such side effects are controlled by factors like age, lifestyle, other ongoing treatments and existing health issues of a recipient. Some side effects are short term, while some others can persist long after the treatment is done.

Here are the 15 side effects of chemotherapy:

1. Fatigue:

A lot of cancer victims who undergo chemotherapy suffer from unexplained fatigue. The feeling can persist throughout the day for some people. However, some recipients may feel worn out after carrying out mundane tasks as well. Taking rest is what the doctors suggest to cope with the feeling of tiredness triggered by chemotherapy. The fatigue can also be caused by low red blood cell count in the body. To cope with fatigue, the following measures can be tried:

  • If you are a working professional, taking a break is strongly recommended.
  • Light exercise is also beneficial, but do not exercise hard as it will be counterproductive.
  • Eat nutritious foods that supply you with adequate vitamins and minerals.

2. Hair Loss:

Hair loss is possibly the most visible side effect of chemotherapy on men and women alike. It is not caused by all chemotherapy medications though. The post treatment hair loss occurs a few weeks after it is complete in most instances. Some people also get thin hair instead of complete hair loss.

While this hair loss does not cause any harm, it can be mentally distressing, especially for women. Hair loss affects the scalp, but other body parts can also be affected by the therapy. Like other side effects, the hair loss is not long lasting.

In recent times, special cold caps have been invented, which can reduce chemotherapy induced hair loss. Some people also wear wigs post treatment to cover baldness.

After undergoing chemotherapy, you need to practice some hair and scalp care measures to prevent hair loss. These are:

  • Use hair brushes with soft-bristle.
  • Avoid hair color and styling products.
  • Use mild shampoos and conditioners while bathing.

3. Nausea And Vomiting:

A majority of people administered with chemotherapy generally experience vomiting and nausea. It can affect recipients shortly after undergoing the therapy. The doctors treat such people with medications. Anti-emetic medications are generally used by doctors to help people cope with these effects. However, regular usage of such anti-emetic medications can lead to onset of several other side effects including sleeping problems and constipation.

Apart from using the medications given by doctors, you can try the following measures to cope with vomiting and nausea:

  • Evade eating in large quantities to stop taxing the stomach.
  • You can drink and eat slowly.
  • Chew foods well to ensure better digestion.
  • Avoid drinking fizzy beverages.
  • Stay in well ventilated rooms with good air flow. 

4. Hearing Impairment:

Chemotherapy can also lead to hearing impairment. However, this may not be equal to deafness. Kids who undergo chemotherapy and suffer from hearing impairment may get back the capacity post gene therapy.

5. Blood Clotting Issues:

Usage of chemotherapy may reduce blood platelet count in a person by affecting the bone marrow. This can lead to bleeding gums, bruising and serious blood loss. To cope with blood clotting problems, you can practice some cautionary measures:

  • Use caution when handling toothbrushes and razors.
  • Use sharp objects with care.
  • Wear protective accessories like gloves and socks.
  • Avoid using Aspirin and similar medications as it can worsen the condition.

6. Inflammation In The Mouth:

Like other parts and cells of the human body, chemotherapy also attacks mucous membranes in the digestive system. This includes esophagus, the mouth, intestines and the stomach. These mucous membrane cells may get damaged by the chemicals used in this therapy. Most patients develop oral mucositis post treatment. These symptoms can last for a week or a little more post treatment. Severity of symptoms is linked to the strength of the drugs. Ulcers can appear even inside the mouth and some people may feel a burning sensation. It may be painful to drink or eat anything during this period. To reduce symptoms and stop infections, doctors may recommend specific medications.

Apart from medications given by a doctor, you can try the following precautionary measures:

  • Use mouthwash or medicated rinse to deal with cavities and ulcers.
  • Use toothbrushes with soft bristles.
  • It would be a good idea to avoid using OTC mouthwashes as they may contain alcohol.
  • Avoid eating acidic fruits, drinks and foods. 

7. Immune System Deterioration:

Chemotherapy can also wreak havoc with the human immune system, reducing its prowess dramatically. It is well known that white blood cells helps the human body fight back infection. Chemotherapy destroys a large number of these WBCs, making the body susceptible to various types of germs and infections.

To deal with the immune system and subsequent infection, the following measures can be taken:

  • The victims can be administrated with antibiotics.
  • Precaution is needed to be taken while making foods for such people.
  • They also need to maintain personal hygiene to cope with this issue.
  • Using disinfectants while washing hands.

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8. Anemia:

Chemotherapy not only lowers the white blood cell count in a victim’s body, it also has the same effect on red blood cells. This can lead to the onset of anemia. This also induces tiredness, but this is different from the fatigue caused by the treatment itself. Anemia symptoms are:

  • Fatigue – you will feel much more fatigued than usual caused by chemotherapy.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Lack of energy to work.
  • Shortness of breath.

A blood transfusion may be required to set the things in place. Eating foods rich in iron like meat, nuts and raisins is also recommended for affected people. To stimulate red blood cell production, erythropoietin is also used by the doctors.

9. Lack Of Appetite:

One big side effect of chemotherapy is lack of appetite. This may last for a few weeks. The lack of appetite may also cause some people to lose weight. People facing this may try taking small meals several times a day instead of eating dinner and lunch. You may try sipping fluids, water through straw rather than drinking directly to get benefits. Some victims who suffer from extreme dislike of eating are fed using a nasogastric tube. You may try eating various types of foods to evade boredom during this time.

10. Skin And Nails:

Chemotherapy affects the cells in the human body and it also leaves its impact on the skin surface and nails to an extent. People undergoing this treatment can suffer from dry skin and brittle nails. Sunlight sensitivity can grow in some people and some people can also experience a change in the skin tone.

To cope with the skin issues, you can take the following measures:

  • You can avoid exposure to sunlight during this phase and wear protective clothes.
  • Use sunglass and umbrella when you go out.
  • Using suitable sunscreen cream or lotion can also help safeguard your skin from further damages.
  • Do not rub acne or skin rashes.
  • Avoid using perfumes or skin care products that contain alcohol or strong chemicals.
  • Use lotions and creams suitable for sensitive skin.

11. Cognitive Impairment And Decline:

A significant part of chemotherapy recipients tend to develop some form of cognitive problems, such as memory impairment and lack of attention. It can affect ones social life and domestic chores to an extent. Their organizational skills can also get adversely affected. These people do not perform well with multi tasking. These people also experience mood swings.

Experts, however, believe that these mental changes and cognitive ability impairment are caused more by fatigue, anxiety and stress triggered by chemotherapy than the drug itself. Family support can play a big role in dealing with these conditions.

12. Sexual Life And Fertility:

Chemotherapy drugs have a direct impact on hormonal secretions and their regular functioning in the human body. This can in turn have an effect on sexual life, reproductive organs and their functioning.

  • Women undergoing chemotherapy often have to cope with irregular periods, unexpected onset of menopause and hot flashes. In some cases, infertility can set in women as well.
  • Chemotherapy can also bring the risk of infections in the vagina.
  • Chemotherapy during pregnancy can lead to birth defects in the unborn child.
  • In men, this therapy can lead to lower sperm count.
  • Hormonal fluctuations can hamper sex drive in women and men.

13. Digestive Problems (Diarrhea, Constipation):

Chemotherapy can cause a number of digestive problems in the recipients. Diarrhea is common as the intestinal linings in the body are affected by the drugs and chemicals. Problems related to bowel movement are also common.

Doctors may recommend some anti-diarrheal medicine, but refrain from using any such medication by yourself. Apart from that, you can try these methods:

  • Avoid taking milk and dairy products as these can worsen the condition.
  • Avoid taking any caffeinated and aerated beverage.
  • Do not eat fried or junk foods much.
  • To make up for lost fluids, take fruit juice and vegetable broth.
  • Some victims also suffer from constipation. To deal with constipation, you need to take the following measures:
  • Drink enough water and fluids. These can be both warm and cold.
  • Include a lot of fiber enriched foods in your daily diet. These can include different kinds of cereals and breads.

14. Sleeping Problems:

A majority of chemotherapy recipients suffer from sleeping problems. These can include insomnia or interrupted sleep patterns. You can use the following tips if sleep is difficult to come by:

  • You may try to avoid factors that disrupt sleep and evade napping in the daytime to cope in such situations.
  • Do not eat foods and beverages that have caffeine as it can affect your sleep.

15. Kidney Problems:

Chemotherapy can also affect the functioning of the kidneys to an extent. Urine may smell strong or have a reddish hue. Adequate fluid intake and medications can help deal with urinary issues in the recipients.

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Long Term Side Effects Of Chemotherapy:

A majority of adverse effects caused by chemotherapy do not last for a longer period of time. But some of them may require medical intervention though. In some instances, the application of chemical drugs can leave damaging effects on major body organs like kidneys, liver and heart.

Some victims suffer from long term cognitive functions disability. Children, administered with this therapy may develop side effects much after the treatment.

Chemotherapy is a vital step to be cancer free. When chemotherapy is administered on time, the patient is sure to get benefits from it, despite the many side effects that it may have. These side effects can be minimized by simple home remedies.

The most important thing to do is stay positive. That will surely help one beat cancer!

Was this article helpful? Did you experience any other chemotherapy side effects? Share your feedback with us in the comments section below.

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