What Are Possible Complications from Chemotherapy?

David Bishop
David Bishop
The drugs used in chemotherapy have a range of side effects including vomiting, weight loss, neuropathy, and hair loss.
The drugs used in chemotherapy have a range of side effects including vomiting, weight loss, neuropathy, and hair loss.

Chemotherapy is a medical treatment typically given to patients suffering from some form of cancer. This therapy can be used by itself or in combination with surgery and other medical procedures. There are several potential complications from chemotherapy that can cause short- and long-term side effects. While some of these complications are fairly minor, chemotherapy poses significant risks to a person's health and can significantly lower his quality of life while undergoing the treatment. Despite these risks, chemotherapy remains one of the most effective cancer treatments available as of 2011, and many of the side effects cease at the end of treatment.

Improper intravenous drip administration is one source of complications from chemotherapy.
Improper intravenous drip administration is one source of complications from chemotherapy.

While the specific details of the treatment vary depending on the type and severity of the cancer, chemotherapy is generally administered via an intravenous (IV) drip or taken orally in a pill form. When given by IV, there is a potential for several complications, such as infiltration, hematoma, embolism and phlebitis resulting from poor needle placement or too much air in the IV line. Repeated, long-term IV treatments can damage veins to the point where they cannot be used for further procedures.

Chemotherapy is often administered at infusion centers, where trained professionals can watch for adverse reactions.
Chemotherapy is often administered at infusion centers, where trained professionals can watch for adverse reactions.

The drugs used in chemotherapy treatment also can cause many side effects because of their toxic nature. Some of the more apparent short-term complications from chemotherapy include hair loss, nausea, diarrhea and pain. These complications can further weaken a person who already is suffering from the effects of the cancer. Some of these side effects can be treated with over-the-counter drugs or prescriptions. Patients may deal with hair loss by purchasing a wig, wearing hats or shaving their head completely.

The emotional side effects of chemotherapy can be difficult for patients to deal with.
The emotional side effects of chemotherapy can be difficult for patients to deal with.

Less visible complications from chemotherapy can include various abnormalities within the patient's blood, including low counts of white and red blood cells and platelets. A low red blood cell count, also known as anemia, can cause bleeding and loss of energy. A low white blood cell count, called neutropenia, can weaken the patient's immune system and leave him vulnerable to infection. Chemotherapy patients should have regular blood tests to determine if they are suffering from either of these conditions.

Many chemotherapy patients wear wigs to cover up hair loss.
Many chemotherapy patients wear wigs to cover up hair loss.

Chemotherapy also may have some more serious complications that can damage vital organs within the patient's body. The heart, lungs, kidneys and liver may all be damaged by certain types of drugs used to fight cancerous tumors. It is important for a doctor to perform a thorough health screening on a patient before he begins treatment, to make sure his body can withstand the cancer-fighting drugs. In some cases, the risk of complications from chemotherapy is too high and doctors may pursue alternative treatments.

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    • The drugs used in chemotherapy have a range of side effects including vomiting, weight loss, neuropathy, and hair loss.
      By: tawesit
      The drugs used in chemotherapy have a range of side effects including vomiting, weight loss, neuropathy, and hair loss.
    • Improper intravenous drip administration is one source of complications from chemotherapy.
      By: grieze
      Improper intravenous drip administration is one source of complications from chemotherapy.
    • Chemotherapy is often administered at infusion centers, where trained professionals can watch for adverse reactions.
      By: Monkey Business
      Chemotherapy is often administered at infusion centers, where trained professionals can watch for adverse reactions.
    • The emotional side effects of chemotherapy can be difficult for patients to deal with.
      By: prudkov
      The emotional side effects of chemotherapy can be difficult for patients to deal with.
    • Many chemotherapy patients wear wigs to cover up hair loss.
      By: Brian Jackson
      Many chemotherapy patients wear wigs to cover up hair loss.
    • Fatigue is extremely common among patients who are receiving chemotherapy treatments.
      By: JPC-PROD
      Fatigue is extremely common among patients who are receiving chemotherapy treatments.