What are the side effects of chemotherapy?
Although chemotherapy kills the fast-growing cancer cells, the drugs can also unfortunately harm normal cells that divide rapidly.
You may have a reduction in red blood cells. When drugs lower the levels of healthy blood cells, you're more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your healthcare team will check for low levels of blood cells. If your levels are low, your healthcare team may stop the chemotherapy for a while or reduce the dose of the drug. There are also medicines that can help your body make new blood cells.
Chemotherapy may affect the cells that produce hair. Chemotherapy may cause hair loss. If you lose your hair, it will grow back after treatment, but the color and texture may be changed.
You may have changes from a different balance of cells lining your intestinal tract. Chemotherapy can cause a poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Your healthcare team can prescribe medicines and suggest other ways to help with these problems.
Chemotherapy may affect the nerve cells. Some drugs used for breast cancer can cause tingling or numbness in the hands or feet. This problem often goes away after treatment is over.
Are there any lasting side effects of chemotherapy?
Sometimes people do experience problems that may not go away. For example, some of the drugs used for breast cancer may weaken the heart. Your doctor may check your heart before, during, and after treatment. A rare side effect of chemotherapy is that occasionally, years after treatment, a few women have developed leukemia (cancer of the blood cells).
Some anti-cancer drugs can damage the ovaries. If you have not gone through menopause yet, you may have hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Your menstrual periods may no longer be regular or they may stop. You may become infertile (unable to become pregnant).
Pregnancy During Chemotharapy
Before treatment begins, you should talk with your doctor about family planning because many drugs given during the first trimester are known to cause birth defects.
Although chemotherapy is often a very personally challenging time in life, there are thousands of people today who are very thankful for its life-saving and life-extending potential.