What is the side effects of chemotherapy treatment?

Chemo Side Effects

What is meant by regional perfusion?

That is when the drugs circulate in a closed circuit through the bloodstream of the cancer affected region. A tourniquet prevents the drug from reaching and damaging sensitive organs beyond the cancerous area. The drug is injected through an artery to the cancerous area, is withdrawn from a vein by special tubes, and then recirculated through artery and vein by means of a pump oxygenator. Regional perfusion allows large doses of drugs to be directed to one spot in the body. It is especially suited to treating certain tumors in the arms and legs.

For how long and how often will I be getting chemotherapy treatments? 

The length of time and how often you will be having treatments depend upon the kind of cancer you have, the drugs being used, how long it takes your body to respond to the drugs, and how well you tolerate them. Treatment schedules vary widely. Chemotherapy may be given daily, weekly, or monthly. Some drugs are given every 4 to 6 weeks, with other drugs given weekly in between. There are also drugs that may be given every day for a short time or drugs that may be taken orally once or twice a day over a long period of time. When used as a preventive measure (adjuvant therapy), chemotherapy may continue for 1 or 2 years, depending on where the primary tumor is located. Some people have to stay on chemotherapy off and on for the rest of their lives.

Chemotherapy drugs side effects

How does the doctor measure whether or not the drug is working? 

The nurse and doctor will use several methods for measuring the effectiveness of the drugs: physical examination, laboratory tests, scans, x-rays, blood counts, and blood chemistry tests. All patients on chemotherapy will have certain laboratory tests on a regular basis. Blood counts, for instance, will be used by the doctor to help adjust the doses of drugs. Other chemical tests will monitor your blood sugar and kidney and liver function. Scans and x-rays allow the health team to determine if the treatment is working. Team members will also be checking your weight, eating patterns, side effects, amount of pain you have, energy level, and how you are feeling in general.

Will I be able to continue working while I am having chemotherapy treatments? 

Most people find that they are able to work and perform the physical activities to which they are accustomed, such as swimming, golf, tennis, etc. Often working people can be put on a program that doesn't interfere with work schedules, such as receiving the drugs just before the weekend or late in the day. Some patients, however, do feel tired when they are on drugs.

Does it make any difference what time of day the drugs are given? 

It depends upon the drugs. Some drugs must be taken or given at a specific time in order to be sure that certain levels of the drugs are in your blood at all times. This is a subject that you need to discuss with the health team that is caring for you. It is important to follow your doctor's instructions very carefully. In addition, there is some research under way indicating that time of day circadian rhythms may influence side effects of the treatment.

I am taking my chemotherapy at home. What if I forget to take it? 

You should set up a schedule so that you will not forget. Take the drugs at mealtime or at certain times during the day so it will be easier for you to remember. If you forget at any time, make sure you tell the doctor as soon as possible.

Will I be able to drink wine and cocktails while I am on chemotherapy? 

Usually you can drink in moderation. That means not more than one or two cocktails daily or wine with your dinner. Double check with your doctor first. In some circumstances it may be absolutely essential that you have no alcohol. If your platelet count falls, for example, or if you develop any bleeding, your doctor may advise you to stop drinking alcoholic beverages. Alcohol may interfere with your liver function and destroy vitamins. Chemotherapy may have to be stopped if this occurs.

Can I take other pills or drugs during treatment? 

A few things may interfere with or in some way affect your chemotherapy, so to be safe you should tell your doctor the dose, frequency, and use of any medicine pills or liquid, prescription, nonprescription, or over the counter that you are taking. It would be most helpful if you bring your prescription medicines with you when you visit the doctor. If you begin taking new medicines while on chemotherapy, be sure to tell the doctor. Some of the drugs which can interfere with your chemotherapy include antibiotics, anticoagulants, blood medicines, anticonvulsant (anti seizure) pills, aspirin, barbiturates (such as Seconal and Nembutal), blood pressure pills, cough medicines (including Robitussin), Darvon, diabetic pills, hormone pills (including birth control pills), sleeping pills, tranquilizers (nerve pills), and water pills.

Will I be able to have dental work done while on treatment? 

Generally you will. Again it depends upon your illness and the drugs you will be taking. Regular teeth cleaning and cavity repairs are not usually a problem. However, be sure to tell your dentist that you are on chemotherapy drugs. If the dentist is going to perform oral surgery, take out a tooth, or give you an injection, tell your doctor so that blood counts can be taken a few days before the dental work is going to be done. If the counts are normal, your dentist can do minor surgery as he would if you were not receiving the drugs.

Do all chemotherapy drugs produce some side effects? 

The extent of the side effects (you will sometimes hear the word toxicity used when referring to side effects) varies greatly from patient to patient and from drug combination to drug combination. The side effects range from slight in some people to severe in a few instances. Some drugs have more noticeable side effects than others. Some people go through their entire chemotherapy treatment without suffering from side effects. Others do have serious problems. We have listed the side effects as known for each drug. It is important to remember that no one experiences all of them. Remember too that the doctors and nurses can help you minimize some of them. Your own attitude plays a large role many times in determining how severe your side effects will be. Some believe that patients who have a relaxed attitude toward chemotherapy may experience milder side effects.

Why does a patient get side effects from the chemotherapy? 

The drugs that kill the cancer cells may also harm the normal cells, especially those cells that are growing fast or are not fully developed. The mouth, stomach, and intestines, the hair follicles (roots), and the bone marrow are areas of the body which normally have fast growing cells and are thus affected by the chemotherapy. To allow the normal tissues to repair themselves, drugs are generally given in cycles to provide drug free intervals. The drugs work against cancer over the long term because the normal cells repair themselves faster than the malignant ones.

Are the side effects of all the drugs the same? 

No. Each drug has its own potential side effects. When drugs are combined, the side effects can change. You should talk with your doctor about what the side effects are for the kind of treatment you are getting.

What can be done to minimize the side effects? 

It depends upon the drug, the dosage being given, the tumor being treated, the stage of the disease, and the severity of the side effect. Sometimes, as in the case of some cancer where there are several different kinds of drugs which can be used, as soon as a sign or a symptom is noticed, the drug is discontinued and another given in its place. In other cases, the dose may be decreased to just below the symptom level. Or the doctor may prescribe medicines to lessen the side effects if he feels they will not interfere with the chemotherapy drugs.

How long do the side effects last? 

Most of the problems last a few hours to a few days. For example, most nausea and vomiting will usually disappear in a few hours. At the other end of the scale of side effects is hair loss, which may not abate until the chemotherapy treatments are finished.

Do the side effects mean that the drugs are working? 

There does not seem to be any relationship between the side effects and what is happening to the tumor. Neither the appearance of side effects nor the absence of them seems to have any relation to the effectiveness of the drug. A patient may have no side effects and yet the drug may be making the tumor shrink greatly. Another patient's tumor may also be shrinking greatly but that patient can be experiencing considerable side effects. It depends upon the individual's tolerance to the drugs being given and the responsiveness of the cancer cells to them.

The different chemotherapy side effects that may occur as well as providing practical advice to help during and after treatment.

What is the effect of chemotherapy?

Are there any serious side effects for which I should call my doctor immediately? 

You should promptly report the following symptoms to your doctor:

• Fever over 100°

• Any kind of bleeding or bruising

• Development of any rash or allergic reaction such as swelling of eyelids, hands, or feet

• Shaking chills

• Marked pain or soreness at the chemotherapy injection site

• Any pain of unusual intensity or distribution, including headaches

• Shortness of breath or inability to catch your breath

• Severe diarrhea

• Bloody urine

Any new, unexpected symptoms, especially severe ones, that arise during chemotherapy should be promptly reported to the doctor.


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