CHEMO
SIDE EFFECTS

HAIR LOSS

Everyone knows chemo drugs cause hair loss.

Hair loss can be a very emotional side effect of chemotherapy treatments.

WEIGHT LOSS – APPETITE LOSS, NAUSEA, & VOMITING

Appetite loss, nausea, and vomiting lead to weight loss and in many cases loss of muscle mass.

Eating a healthy diet, getting good sources of protein, and consuming vegetables with anticancer properties is EXTREMELY important for cancer patients to consume.

Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting can make it harder for your body to get get these essentials things.

Chemotherapy drugs that are more likely to cause nausea and vomiting include:

  • Asparaginase (Elspar)
  • Carboplatin (Parablatin)
  • Carmustine (CiCNU)
  • Cisplatin (Platinol, PlatinolAQ)
  • Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
  • Cytarabine (CytosarU, DepoCyt)
  • Dacarbazine (DTIC, DTIC-Dome)
  • Dactinomycin (Cosmegen)
  • Daunorubicin (Cerubidine, DaunoXome)
  • Doxorubicin (Doxil)
  • Etoposide (Etopophos)
  • Mechlorethamine (Mustargen)
  • Melphalan (Alkeran)
  • Methotrexate (Folex)
  • Plicamycin (Mithracin)
  • Procarbazine (Matulane)
  • Streptozocin (Zanosar)

MOUTH SORES

Chemo causes damage to the cells inside your mouth and throat.

Mouth and throat sores are a result. These sores can get infected and cause more issues.

If you are getting chemo (which we never recommend), PLEASE eat a healthy diet and keep your mouth clean to lower your risk of infection to mouth and throat sores.

DENTAL PROBLEMS

Chemotherapy can affect tooth enamel. It also increases the risk of long-term dental problems.

Chemotherapy and radiation can cause tooth decay or tooth loss. If you’re receiving high-dose radiation to the head and neck area, changes in tooth development and gum disease can occur.

Conventional cancer treatment can also cause soreness or ulcers in the mouth and throat; making it difficult to eat, talk, and swallow.

SKIN CHANGES

Chemotherapy damages healthy cells in addition to cancer cells which can also cause changes to your skin.

Common skin reactions include the following:

  • Dry skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin)
  • Photosensitivity (tendency to sunburn easily)
  • Radiation Rash (rash caused by the administration of certain chemotherapy drugs with or after radiation)

FATIGUE

Cancer itself can make you feel more tired, but then when you add chemotherapy to that, you’re basically going to feel exhausted the majority of the time.

Exhaustion is a regular side effect of chemotherapy. Fatigue isn’t necessarily a physically noticeable change to other people, but you’ll notice it immediately.

Being fatigued can make it more difficult to get the motivation to eat healthy and exercise.

And if a cancer patient doesn’t exercise regularly, lower outlook on life, muscle wasting, and depression are more likely to occur.

PREMATURE AGING

Certain chemotherapy drugs and radiation can cause health concerns normally seen in older people.

Men: Chemotherapy drugs and radiation can cause long-term conditions in men such as osteoporosis, incontinence, infertility, impotence, erectile dysfunction, decreased immune function, and breathing difficulties.

Women: Some long-term health conditions women experience is early menopause, osteoporosis, decreased immune function, and breathing difficulties.

TOXIC TO YOUR HEART

Chemotherapy is only supposed to affect cancer cells, right? …wrong.

Chemo drugs also affect your heart (and every area of your body in fact) and are quite toxic, causing serious damage to your heart. When this damage occurs, your heart can’t pump enough blood that supplies your body with essential nutrients and oxygen.

Some chemotherapy drugs that are known or have been reported to cause heart damage (in alphabetical order):

  • Aldesleukin (Proleukin)
  • Arsenic Trioxid (Trisenox)
  • Bevacizumab (Avastin)
  • Bortezomib (Velcade)
  • Cisplatin (Platinol, PlatinolAQ)
  • Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
  • Daunorubicin (Cerubidine, DaunoXome)
  • Denileukin Diftitox (Ontak)
  • Doxorubicin (Rubex)
  • Epirubicin (Ellence)
  • Fluorouracil 5-FU (Adrucil)
  • Gemtuzumab Ozogamicin (Mylortag)
  • Idarubicin (Idamycin)
  • Imatinib (Gleevac)
  • Lapatinib (Tykerb)
  • Lenalidomide (Revlimib)
  • Melphalan (Alkeran)
  • Mitomycin (Mutamycin)
  • Mitoxantrone (Novantrone)
  • Octreotide (Sandostatin)
  • Paclitaxel (Abraxane, Onxol, Taxol)
  • Pazopanib (Votrient)
  • Sorafenib (Nexavar)
  • Sunitinib (Sutent)
  • Thalidomide (Thalomid)
  • Trastuzumab (Herceptin)
  • Tretinoin (Vesanoid)

DAMAGE TO YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM

Published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “Chemotherapy is commonly associated with harmful effects to multiple organ systems, including the central nervous system (CNS).”

Neurotoxicity may manifest as both acute and delayed complications, which is particularly a concern for long-term survivors.

Patients may experience a wide range of neurotoxic syndromes, ranging from neuro-vascular complications and focal neurological deficits to generalized neurological decline with cognitive impairment, cortical atrophy and white matter abnormalities.”

Cancer.net published the following nervous system side effects which can be caused by certain cancers and/or conventional cancer treatments:

  • Hearing loss and/or a ringing in the ears
  • Blurred or double vision or complete vision loss
  • Slurred speech or difficulty expressing oneself or understanding speech
  • Cognitive or thought-process changes including decreased memory, problem solving, and calculation (commonly called chemo-brain)
  • Problems with balance, dizziness, nausea, and vertigo
  • Problems with coordination and movement, including problems with posture, walking, or holding objects
  • Weakness that affects one side of the body or the body as a whole
  • Paralysis of different parts of the body. This can range from one side of the body to a smaller area like the muscles in the face.
  • Seizures
  • Changes in taste and smell
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Changes in the functioning of organs. This can include the following:
    • Constipation (talked about below
    • Incontinence, which is not being able to control the flow of urine
    • Impotence, which is being unable to get or maintain an erection
  • Damage to the nerves from treatment
  • Peripheral neuropathy, a condition caused by damage or irritation to the peripheral nerves.

ORGAN DAMAGE

Organ damage caused by chemotherapy can cause long-term damage. Organs that are usually affected are the heart (talked about above), the lungs, the liver, and the kidneys.

The Heart:
See ‘Toxic to your Heart’ above.

The Lungs:
Lung toxicity occurs with some chemotherapy treatments. The damage may include inflammation and/or scarring.

This reduces the amount of oxygen you can absorb and reduces the amount of air you can breathe.

Common symptoms of lung damage include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Coughing
  • Pneumonia

The Liver:

From the University of New Mexico, “Chemotherapy drugs are toxins and may cause liver damage. The liver serves many vital functions in the body; the most important is to filter toxic substances from the blood. If there are more toxins coming in than the liver can deal with, liver damage will result. Liver damage can be a very serious condition.”

Symptoms of liver damage include:

  • Dark urine
  • Yellowing of your eyes or skin
  • Swelling or pain in your abdomen
  • Extreme fatigue

The Kidneys:

The kidneys break down and try to remove chemo drugs from the body. When the drugs break down, they make products that can damage cells in the kidneys and bladder.

Signs of kidney damage include:

  • Decreased urine flow
  • Bladder irritation and bleeding
  • Swelling in hands, feet, or other areas
  • Headache
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Change in urine color
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Feeling weak

INFERTILITY

Men
Chemotherapy drugs can reduce the number of sperm cells and their ability to move which can cause temporary or permanent damage. The side effects from chemo also create difficulty in getting or keeping an erection. Birth defects can also occur because damage to the chromosomes in the sperm is caused by many chemotherapy drugs.

Women
Infertility in women is a result of damage to the ovaries. The result of infertility occurring and the length of time it lasts (temporary or permanent) depends on factors such as the type of chemo drugs used, the dosage of those drugs, and the woman’s age.

MUSCLE LOSS

During advanced stages of cancer and due to the side effects of chemo (like nausea, loss of appetite, and vomiting which are talked about in Part 1), cancer anorexia-cachexia syndrome (also referred to as cachexia) may develop. This is when muscle and fat are quickly lost.

Because chemotherapy causes loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting, malnutrition is a result (also contributing to muscle loss).

To see chemo drugs that are more likely to cause nausea and vomiting, see Part 1: Physical Changes.

CONSTIPATION/DIARRHEA

Chemotherapy drugs cause damage to your intestinal lining causing constipation or diarrhea. If you’re on multiple chemo drugs or pain medications, constipation or diarrhea can be worse.

For constipation, eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Fiber and water will help to manage it. Keep in mind that too much fiber and not enough water can make the constipation worse, so it’s important to drink lots of HEALTHY fluids.

For diarrhea, eat foods higher in potassium but don’t drink less water, in fact you need to drink more than normally because you’re losing more fluid.

DECREASED IMMUNE FUNCTION

Chemotherapy destroys your immune system.  This is because chemo drugs destroy healthy cells in addition to cancer cells.

A recent study published in Breast Cancer Research found that chemotherapy causes long-term immune system damage, reducing levels of key immune cells in breast cancer patients for at least nine months after treatment, leaving them vulnerable to potentially life-threatening viral and bacterial infections.” You can view this study here or here.

The American Cancer Society tells us treatment weakens your body’s immune system. It does this by negatively affecting the blood cells that protect us from getting diseases. Because of how chemotherapy drugs affect your immune system, your body can’t fight infection, foreign substances, and disease as well as a healthy person’s immune system can.

So….here’s where common sense comes in…

If chemo makes it to where your body can’t really fight infection, foreign substances, and disease….and that’s exactly what cancer is….I don’t know, shouldn’t we be increasing the body’s immune function so it can do what it naturally does, kill cancer, not decrease its ability…? Just putting that out there…

INTERNAL BLEEDING

Chemotherapy can cause platelet counts to drop. Platelets are blood cells that make your blood clot. A low platelet count is called thrombocytopenia.

If platelets get too low, serious internal bleeding can occur.

The normal range for platelet counts is between 150,000 – 450,000/cubic millimeter.

Some signs that your platelet count is low include:

  • Bruising easily
  • Bruises that don’t go away
  • Heavy or longer menstrual periods
  • Bleeding longer than usual after minor cuts or scrapes
  • Bleeding gums
  • Nose bleeds

Besides these internal damages and the physical changes that occur because of chemotherapy, chemo also has a low success rate and causes secondary cancers.

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