Anyone who has experienced cancer treatment or witnessed a close friend or family member undergo treatment knows that these treatments can sometimes be more difficult to endure than the symptoms of the cancer itself. Since the 1950s, chemotherapy — the use of drugs to kill cancer cells — has been used to treat cancer. There are more than 100 different chemotherapy drugs available, each one prescribed based on the patient's type and stage of cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, chemotherapy may be used to keep cancer from spreading, make the cancer grow slower, kill cancer cells that have metastasized (spread to other parts of the body), improve the side effects of cancer and cure cancer.
Sometimes chemotherapy is the only necessary treatment for a patient with cancer, but it’s more often just one part of the overall cancer treatment plan that may also include surgery, radiology and integrative therapies. Before surgery or radiation treatment, chemotherapy may be used to shrink tumors, and it may be used after other treatments to kill any cancer cells that are left in the body.
Common side effects of chemotherapy
While chemotherapy is one of the most common and effective treatments for cancer, it is unfortunately not without side effects. While chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, it may also affect normal cells that grow fast, like the cells that produce hair and blood.
Damage to these healthy cells in your body can produce uncomfortable side effects. While normal cells are often able to repair themselves and side effects clear up after treatment ends, some side effects of chemo may be longer-lasting, such as damage to the heart or nerves, or fertility problems.
Here are some of the different ways chemotherapy may affect your body:
- Hair loss.
- Brain fog.
- Anxiety and depression.
- Mouth, tongue and throat pain and/or sores.
- Weak heart.
- Hot flashes and menopause.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Digestive problems, constipation or diarrhea.
- Loss of appetite.
- Decreased urination and/or red urine.
- Discolored and cracked nails.
- Bone loss.
- Skin effects.
- Poor coordination and tired muscles.
- Nerve problems such as numbness or pain.
- Changes in weight.
- Changes in libido and sexual function.
- Fertility problems.
- Bruising and bleeding.
- Kidney and/or liver damage.
It is important to know that not every cancer patient receiving chemotherapy will experience side effects and that the severity of these side effects varies greatly from one patient to the next. Symptom severity often depends on the patient’s overall health, age and the type of chemotherapy being administered. Your cancer care team can tell you which side effects are most common with the chemotherapy drug(s) you are taking, how long they will last and what can be done to keep them at a minimum.
If you are receiving chemotherapy for cancer treatment, it’s important to let your doctor know about any side effects you may be experiencing. Your oncologist may need to adjust the type or dose of the chemotherapy. Talk to your doctor right away if you experience a fever, bleeding or unexplained bruising, allergic reaction or rash, intense chills, pain at the chemo injection site, intense headaches, shortness of breath, bloody stool or urine, or long-lasting diarrhea or vomiting.
At Goshen Center for Cancer Care, we treat more than the disease — we treat the whole patient. Our cancer care experts will find the right cancer treatment approach for you, which may include surgery, chemo, radiation and integrative therapies. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, contact us today at 888-492-HOPE to learn more about our approach to cancer treatment.