Chemotherapy is an invaluable tool in cancer treatment and can be a powerful way to fight the disease. However, it can also cause side effects which vary in severity and frequency from person to person.These common side effects can impact someone’s physical and emotional health. Knowing the potential side effects of chemotherapy can help people prepare for their treatment and possibly reduce the severity of symptoms they will experience.In this article, we will discuss the most common side effects of chemotherapy, as well as provide tips for managing them to keep you feeling your best. By the end of the blog, you would get an idea about what people should look out for when undergoing chemotherapy, so that they can be aware of any changes in their body and know when to speak to a doctor.
What Exactly is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a medical treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. It has become the standard of care for many types of cancer and has saved countless lives over the past few decades. But what exactly is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy, or chemo for short, is an umbrella term for drugs used to treat cancer. These drugs work by blocking cell growth and multiplication, stopping tumours from growing any larger or spreading further. They also work by targeting fast-growing cells such as those found in bone marrow and in the lining of the digestive tract. The goals of chemotherapy can be 1. Curative- complete cure of cancer
2. Adjunctive Reducing the size of a tumour enough so it can be surgically removed with minimal side effects
3. palliative –only symptom relief in advanced cancer.
Chemotherapeutic agents enter cancer cells through their outer membranes and attack their DNA structure. They inhibit their ability to reproduce themselves properly and cause slow death of cancer cells
However, besides being an invaluable tool in cancer treatment,Chemotherapy can also cause side effects. Chemotherapy kills regular cells as well as cancer cells, which can lead to unwanted side effects.
Let’s now explore some of the most common side effects of Chemotherapy.
- Infection and Weakened Immune System
One of the most serious side effects of Chemotherapy is an increased risk of infection and a weakened immune system. The body’s ability to fight off infections decreases during chemotherapy due to the damage it does to healthy cells as well as cancer cells. When healthy cells are damaged, it reduces the number of white blood cells in your body which are responsible for fighting infection. It also causes changes in other types of immune system cells that make it harder for your body to prevent and fight off infections like viruses or bacteria.
How to Reduce this Risk? Various strategies can be employed to reduce the risk of infection including avoiding crowded places, washing hands regularly, being mindful of what is eaten, and maintaining good hygiene standards. Eating a diet rich in vitamins A, C, E and K may also help strengthen the immune system.
- Bruising and Bleeding More Easily
One of the more serious side effects associated with chemotherapy is bruising and bleeding more easily. Patients receiving chemotherapy can experience a decreased level of platelets in their blood, which are the cells responsible for clotting. When this happens, they may notice that they bruise and bleed more easily than usual. There are steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of this happening.
How to Reduce this Risk? It is important for patients to take extra care when engaging in activities that could cause them to bruise or bleed, such as sports. Vitamin K helps your body form clots in the event of an injury or wound so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of it in your diet or through nutritional supplements prescribed by your doctor.
One of the most common and noticeable side effects is hair loss. When chemotherapy treatments begin, people will start to notice their hair thinning or falling out in clumps. This can be a devastating experience for those undergoing chemotherapy, as it affects not only physical appearance but also self-esteem and confidence levels. Hair loss can occur on any part of the body where there is hair including eyebrows and eyelashes. It typically starts 3-4 weeks after beginning treatment and may continue until 1-2 months after completing chemotherapy sessions.
How to Reduce this Risk? Some research has suggested that scalp cooling treatments may help reduce the amount of hair lost due to chemo drugs. These treatments involve covering the head with a cold cap before and during each infusion session; this helps slow down blood flow going into the scalp, thus reducing the amount of medication that reaches the scalp and follicles.
- Nausea and Vomiting
One of the most common and unpleasant side effects of Chemotherapy treatment is nausea and vomiting. Nausea is an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach that can lead to retching or vomiting. It’s caused by chemotherapy drugs directly irritating the digestive tract, leading to inflammation in the stomach and intestines. Vomiting occurs when your body tries to expel whatever it perceives as a toxin.
How to Reduce this Risk? It is important to stay hydrated during chemotherapy treatments by drinking lots of fluids throughout the day leading up to treatment. Eating smaller meals more frequently instead of larger meals all at once can also help reduce the risk associated with chemo-induced nausea and vomiting.
One of the most common and concerning side effects of chemotherapy is neuropathy. Neuropathy occurs when there is damage to the nerves, which can cause significant pain and discomfort in patients.
Neuropathy caused by chemotherapy usually affects the hands and feet more than other parts of the body, since these areas are distant from where the medicine enters the body.
How to Reduce this Risk? Following a healthy diet and exercise routine before starting treatment has been linked with better outcomes in patients receiving chemotherapy. Eating foods high in antioxidants such as fruits, vegetables and nuts may reduce the likelihood of nerve damage.
In conclusion, chemotherapy is a valuable treatment for cancer, but it also carries side effects that can significantly impact a patient’s quality of life. Nausea and vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, infection, and nerve damage are just some of the common side effects of chemotherapy. It is important to discuss these potential side effects with a doctor who can provide comfort and advice about managing them.