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Side effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy: cancer treatment

Potential Side-effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy (also called chemo) is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. While chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it can also damage healthy cells. Different cells and tissues in the body tolerate chemotherapy differently.

Side effects of chemotherapy depend mainly on the person’s overall health, type and dose of the drug(s).

The following are the most common side effects that people tend to experience with chemotherapy for bone cancer. Some people may experience all, some or none of these side effects.

a) Bone Marrow Suppression

Bone marrow suppression is a condition in which one or more of the main types of blood cells are decreased. Bone marrow suppression is the most common and most serious side effect of chemotherapy. When it happens, the dose of chemotherapy is adjusted right away or chemotherapy may have to be stopped temporarily.

b) Nausea and Vomiting

Not all chemotherapy drugs cause nausea and vomiting. Individual drugs vary in their effects, but nausea and vomiting are more likely when combinations of chemotherapy drugs are given.

Nausea and vomiting can occur within the first few hours after chemotherapy drugs are given and usually last about 24 hours. However, delayed nausea and vomiting may continue for a few days after treatment.

c) Loss of Appetite

Nausea and vomiting, fatigue, or developing of waste products as cancer cells die can cause loss of appetite. Some chemotherapy drugs can cause temporary changes in taste and smell, which can make foods seem less appetizing.

Some people lose interest in food completely and don’t eat, even though they know they need to. This can lead to weight loss and malnutrition. Maintaining good nutrition during and after chemotherapy is important to help a person recover from treatment.

d) Sore Mouth

Many drugs can cause a sore mouth and it occurs more often when higher doses of drugs are used. A sore mouth (also called stomatitis or oral mucositis) occurs because of chemotherapy’s effect on cells inside the mouth. A sore mouth occurs about a week (5–14 days) after chemotherapy starts. It often improves on its own a few weeks after treatment is finished.

Painful mouth sores, ulcers in the mouth and mouth infections can also develop. Thorough, regular mouth care can help prevent a sore mouth and reduce infection.

e) Hair Loss

Hair loss (alopecia) is a common side effect of many, but not all, chemotherapy drugs. Hair follicles are vulnerable to chemotherapy drugs because they grow fast.

The extent and duration of hair loss is unpredictable because it depends on the type and dose of drugs used.

Hair loss can occur on all parts of the body, including the face and scalp. Hair loss can begin within a few days or 2–3 weeks after chemotherapy starts. Hair usually grows back once chemotherapy treatments are over.

f) Fatigue

Fatigue causes a person to feel more tired than usual and can interfere with daily activities and sleep. Fatigue may be caused by anaemia, specific drugs, poor appetite or depression. It may also be related to toxic substances that are produced when cancer cells break down and die.

Fatigue can occur days after a chemotherapy treatment cycle and may get better as time goes by. Fatigue can continue long after the person has finished cancer treatment.

g) Constipation

Constipation is when stools become hard, dry and difficult to pass. Many factors increase the risk of constipation, including the type of chemotherapy drug used, decreased fluid intake and medications given with chemotherapy to relieve nausea and vomiting. Constipation usually occurs 3–7 days after the chemotherapy drug is given.

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