What are Some Chemotherapy Side Effects?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Chemotherapy is an important weapon in the fight against cancer, and it is also infamous for its side effects. It is important to be aware that chemotherapy side effects have decreased radically, thanks to advances in science which have allowed doctors to use more calculated dosages, and work with drugs which are less toxic. When developing a treatment plan for cancer, getting chemotherapy side effect information is definitely important, and the potential for side effects should be considered, but the risk of side effects should be weighed against the benefit of the drugs.

Nausea is a common side effect of chemotherapy, especially right after treatment.
Nausea is a common side effect of chemotherapy, especially right after treatment.

Not everyone gets side effects from chemotherapy, and people can experience radically different chemotherapy side effects. Certain drugs are also accompanied with specific issues which a doctor should discuss before beginning the treatment plan, and patients should not be afraid to ask for detailed information about what to expect.

Bruising is one side effect of chemotherapy.
Bruising is one side effect of chemotherapy.

The drugs used in chemotherapy attack cells while they divide, in an attempt to target the malignant cells which are causing the cancer. In the process, however, they can also attack normal cells, causing chemotherapy side effects. One of the most commonly observed chemotherapy side effects is hair loss, caused by damage to the root of the hair caused by the drugs.

It is estimated that 25 percent of cancer patients will develop major depression.
It is estimated that 25 percent of cancer patients will develop major depression.

Some other side effects of chemotherapy treatment include: fatigue, especially immediately after a treatment; nausea; vomiting; diarrhea; pain; dry mouth; bruising; susceptibility to infection; sore joints; mouth sores; and numbness or tingling in the extremities. Some patients also experience sexual dysfunction, and emotional distress is commonly associated with chemotherapy, both because of the strain of the side effects and because of depression or emotional turmoil about the cancer.

Chemotherapy is a treatment for cancer but it comes with various side effects including hair loss and nausea.
Chemotherapy is a treatment for cancer but it comes with various side effects including hair loss and nausea.

There are also some long term chemotherapy side effects to be considered. Chemotherapy can lead to bone loss, which may cause problems in the future, and it can also cause damage to the nerves, known as neuropathy. Sometimes, the neuropathy may be temporary, but it is important to report any tingling, loss of sensation, or pain in the extremities to a doctor. Some chemotherapy drugs can also cause long term damage to the organs, especially the heart, and others are associated with a risk of developing a second cancer in the future.

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.

When considering chemotherapy as an option, patients should ask their doctors for an honest assessment about the potential benefits of the chemotherapy. If the treatment is effective in 90% of patients, for example, it is well worth the side effects in the minds of many patients. If the success rate is more like five percent, however, some patients may feel that the pain and suffering of chemotherapy is not worth the slim chance of survival, in which case palliative care may be more appropriate.

Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy.
Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy.
The long-term effects of chemotherapy treatments may include bone loss and nerve damage.
The long-term effects of chemotherapy treatments may include bone loss and nerve damage.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Rotergirl

When my mom was having chemo, one of the worst side effects for her was getting a metallic taste in her mouth. She also had short term memory loss. She called it "chemo brain." The memory loss mostly corrected itself, but she would occasionally get the yucky taste in her mouth years after treatment.

When she had the nasty taste in her mouth, the only thing that tasted good to her were vanilla milkshakes. We usually had one waiting on her when she got home from treatment. Those also tended to stay down pretty well.

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