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Chemotherapy (cont.)

Chemotherapy Side Effects

What are side effects?

Side effects are problems caused by cancer treatment. Some common side effects from chemotherapy are fatigue, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, mouth sores, and pain.

What causes side effects?

Chemotherapy is designed to kill fast-growing cancer cells. But it can also affect healthy cells that grow quickly. These include cells that line your mouth and intestines, cells in your bone marrow that make blood cells, and cells that make your hair grow. Chemotherapy causes side effects when it harms these healthy cells.

Will I get side effects from chemotherapy?

You may have a lot of side effects, some, or none at all. This depends on the type and amount of chemotherapy you get and how your body reacts. Before you start chemotherapy, talk with your doctor or nurse about which side effects to expect.

How long do side effects last?

How long side effects last depends on your health and the kind of chemotherapy you get. Most side effects go away after chemotherapy is over. But sometimes it can take months or even years for them to go away.

Sometimes, chemotherapy causes long-term side effects that do not go away. These may include damage to your heart, lungs, nerves, kidneys, or reproductive organs. Some types of chemotherapy may cause a second cancer years later. Ask your doctor or nurse about your chance of having long-term side effects.

What can be done about side effects?

Doctors have many ways to prevent or treat chemotherapy side effects and help you heal after each treatment session. For example: drugs to prevent or control nausea and vomiting are much more effective now than they used to be. Talk with your doctor or nurse about which side effects to expect, when they are likely to occur, and what to do about them. Make sure to let your doctor or nurse know about any changes you notice - they may be signs of a side effect.

As another example: chemotherapy can lower your white blood cell count. White blood cells are an important way to fight infection. If you get a fever when your white blood cell count is low it can be very dangerous. Development of a fever after office hours should always be called about right away. Your doctor and staff should teach you what to watch for- such as chills or sweats, and the importance of having a thermometer on hand.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/30/2014

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