Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects
The treatment of cancer may include the use of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery or some combination of all of these therapeutic options.
All of these treatment options are directed at eradicating cancer within the patient’s body. Unfortunately, the delivery of cancer therapy,
including chemotherapy, often affects the body’s healthy organs and tissues not affected by cancer. The undesired consequence of damaging
healthy cells is a complication of treatment or a side effect. Side effects may be acute (short-term), chronic (longer-term), or permanent.
When cancer treatments are evaluated, side effects are measured and reported as part of the treatment evaluation.
What are the most common side effects?
All chemotherapy is associated with a wide variety of side effects; however, some side effects occur more frequently than others. Whether you will experience side effects, which ones, and their severity depend on a variety of factors, including your type of cancer, the type of chemotherapy drug or regimen you are taking, your physical condition, your age, and others. However, the following side effects are typically associated with chemotherapy:
Can anything be done about side effects?
Fortunately, in the last 20 years there has been lots of progress in the development of treatments to help prevent and control the side effects of cancer therapy.
These developments have:
- Led to vast improvements in the management of symptoms associated with cancer treatment
- Allowed chemotherapy to be delivered with greater accuracy and consistency,
- Made many cancer treatments more widely available.
For example, modern anti-vomiting drugs, called antiemetics, have reduced the severity of nausea and vomiting with chemotherapy. Blood cell growth factors are now available to protect patients from infection, to reduce the fatigue associated with anemia, and to ensure that treatment can be addressed at the planned dose and schedule for optimal outcomes.
When to Call Your Doctor
The development of any of the following symptoms during your chemotherapy treatment may indicate a serious condition.
If you experience any of the following, throughout your cancer treatment, please inform your doctor.
- Fever higher than 100.5º F
- Shaking chills
- Vomiting that occurs longer than 24 hours
- Bleeding or bruising
- Shortness of breath/chest pain
- Severe constipation or diarrhea
- Painful or frequent urination
- Blood in the urine or stool
- Soreness, redness, swelling, pus, or drainage at your VAD site
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Pain that is not relieved by your pain medication.
- Inability to eat and continued weight loss