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Side Effect
A Guide for Cancer Patients and Caregivers
What Side Effects Can I Expect?
Anti-cancer drugs affect people in different ways. Not all cancer patients have the same side
effects with the same drug, and some people have very few side effects. It isn't possible to tell
how you will react until you have been treated with a particular drug.
How Long Do Side Effects Last?
Because normal cells recover quickly, side effects gradually disappear after treatment ends.
Although many side effects go away fairly quickly, others may take longer to disappear
completely. The time it takes to get over side effects varies from person to person. How soon you
will feel better depends on many factors, including your overall health and the types of drugs you
have been taking. It is encouraging to know that many people who undergo chemotherapy
experience no long-term problems. It is also reassuring that health care professionals are making
great progress in preventing some of chemotherapy's more serious side effects.
In An Ideal World...
In treating cancer patients with chemotherapy, it would be ideal if health care professionals could
treat only the areas where the cancer is present. Unfortunately, that's not always possible.
chemotherapy eliminates cells that divide frequently, like cancer cells. But the treatment not only
eliminates cancer cells, but also any normal cells that are rapidly dividing. Such cells are found in
• Mouth
• Skin
• Bone marrow
• Digestive tract
• Hair
• Nervous system
• Kidney, bladder and lungs
• Reproductive system
Because healthy tissues may also be damaged during chemotherapy, treatment can cause some
side effects therefore it is important for you to learn how to manage any side effects you may
Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy
When To Call Your Doctor?
After receiving a chemotherapy treatment, if you experience any side effects, such as extreme
fatigue, changes in bowel habits, fever, nausea or vomiting, call your doctor right away. Your
doctor can prescribe medications to help treat the side effects.
What Side Effect Can I Expect?
Anaemia is a side effect experienced by over 50% of patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy reduces the bone marrow's ability to make red blood cells that carry oxygen to all
parts of your body. When there are too few red blood cells, your body's tissues don't get enough
oxygen to do their work. This condition, known as anaemia, may be characterized by feelings of
extreme fatigue, weakness, tiredness, paleness and/or dizziness.
Because anti-cancer drugs can cause changes in bowel habits, you may experience constipation.
A decrease in physical activity and an unbalanced diet can also contribute.
Cancer may disrupt the lifestyle and threaten the purposes and goals that give meaning to
people’s lives. The physical and emotional stress that cancer and its treatment places on the
body can often lead to depression.
Diarrhea can occur when chemotherapy affects the cells that line the intestine. If you have pain
and cramp along with diarrhea or if you experience diarrhea for more than 24 hours, call your
Fatigue is when a person feels weak or tired sooner than usual after physical, mental or
emotional activity. Fatigue is a major side effect of chemotherapy. There are many reasons for
fatigue and anaemia is often a major cause.
Hair Loss
Your doctor can tell you whether hair loss (alopecia) is likely to occur with the drug or drugs you
are taking. Hair loss can occur on all parts of the body. When hair loss does occur, it usually
grows back after the chemotherapy treatments are over.
Chemotherapy can make you more likely to get infections. This happens because most anticancer drugs affect the bone marrow, and decrease its ability to produce the white blood cells
that help you fight infection.
Loss Of Appetite
Some chemotherapy medicines may affect the cells of the digestive system—causing a loss of
appetite as well as nausea and diarrhea.
Mouth, Gum And Throat Problems
Good oral care is important during chemotherapy because anti-cancer drugs can cause sores in
your mouth or throat. Besides being painful, mouth sores can become infected by germs that live
in your mouth.
Nausea And Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting can almost always be controlled, or at least lessened, with medication.
Sexual Problems
Men - Chemotherapy drugs may affect sperm cells which can result in temporary or permanent
Women - Menstrual periods may become irregular or stop completely while undergoing
chemotherapy. Women are also , more likely to get vaginal infections and may experience
menopause-like symptoms, like hot flashes. These side effects are usually short-term effects of
treatment and will normally go away.