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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.