When your body is being attacked by cancer cells, chemo drugs are given to kill the fast-growing cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is one of the most common options used for treating cancer. However, due to the fact that chemo drugs travel and spread throughout the body, this cancer treatment also impacts the normal and healthy cells of the body along with the cancer cells. Damage to these healthy cells of the body can cause potential side effects from chemotherapy. The severity of these chemotherapy side effects varies from person to person depending on your age, your treatment plan, your overall health, and the type of chemotherapy you are undergoing. Most side effects of chemotherapy tend to clear up by themselves shortly after the therapy ends, but some may continue to affect you even after the chemo has ended. Let's take a look at some of the common side effects of chemo.

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What are the Common Side Effects of Chemo?

Before you start chemotherapy, somewhere at the back of their minds, everyone worries about what kind of side effect they will suffer from once they start chemo. Some of the common side effects caused by chemo include:

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  • Hair loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Infection.
  • Anemia, a condition characterized by low red blood cell counts.
  • Easy bleeding and bruising.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Constipation.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Nerve and muscle problems, such as tingling, pain, and numbness.
  • Tongue, mouth, and throat problems, such as pain while swallowing and sores.
  • Weight changes.
  • Mood changes.
  • Changes in sexual function and libido.
  • Skin and nail changes including color change and dry skin.
  • Bladder and urine changes and kidney trouble.
  • Chemo brain, a condition that can affect your concentration and focus.
  • Fertility problems.

What Causes Chemo Side Effects?

Cancer cells are the rapidly and uncontrollably growing and dividing of the cells, which result in the formation of a tumor in the affected organ/body. Chemotherapy is a mode of cancer treatment where chemo drugs are used for killing these fast-growing cancerous cells. However, as the chemo medicine spreads throughout the body, it not only kills the cancerous cells, but also affects the normal and healthy cells that are also fast-growing. It is this damage to the healthy cells that cause side effects from chemotherapy. While chemo side effects are not always as bad as you may think, but it is worrisome for anyone who is about to start chemotherapy and many people worry about these side effects of chemotherapy. The major healthy cells that get damaged most commonly during chemotherapy include:

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  • Hair follicles.
  • Blood-producing cells present in the bone marrow.
  • Cells present in the digestive tract, reproductive system, and the mouth.
  • There are certain types of chemo drugs that can also cause damage to the kidneys, the heart, the bladder, lungs, and the nervous system.

There is a treatment that helps relieve some of the side effects caused by chemo and you can also take certain medications along with the chemo to protect the healthy cells of the body. Doctors also try to keep the chemo at a high enough level to treat cancer, but also to minimize the side effects as much as possible. Doctors also avoid using too many drugs that have similar side effects that of chemo.

Conclusion

Not every person who undergoes chemotherapy gets every side effect from it. Some people may not even experience any chemo side effect or experience fewer side effects than others. The severity of chemo side effects varies quite a bit from person to person. You should ensure that you discuss all the doubts and queries you have about chemo side effects with your healthcare team and your doctor. Also, find out if your doctor will prescribe you any medications to help prevent any of the chemo side effects and to also protect the healthy cells of the body.

There are some chemo drugs that cause long-term side effects, such as infertility, nerve damage and heart problems. You can find out from your doctor if the chemo drugs you will be getting have any kind of long-term side effects associated with them. While the side effects of chemotherapy are very unpleasant, you need to ultimately weigh the chemo side effects against chemo benefit, which is the need to kill the cancer cells and treat cancer first.

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Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: March 4, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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