Examples of Side Effects
| Talk to Your Doctor
Chemotherapy can cause a range of side effects. It is important that you talk to your healthcare team about your concerns. Keep in mind that side effects depend on factors like the type of chemotherapy drugs that you need, the dose, and the way that it is given (eg, by mouth or intravenously).
Examples of Side Effects
- Hair loss—Chemotherapy can cause the hair on your head, as well as other parts of your body, to fall out. Hair loss can happen within 2-3 weeks of starting chemotherapy. Hair typically grows back a few months after the treatment has ended.
- Loss of appetite—While undergoing chemotherapy, you may not feel like eating. This may due to medicines that you are taking or other side effects, like nausea or pain.
- Nausea and vomiting—You may feel sick to your stomach and vomit or try to vomit even if your stomach has no food in it. Nausea and vomiting can happen during or right after chemotherapy treatment. In some cases, you may feel sick days later.
- Flu-like symptoms—You may feel like you have the flu. This may be especially true if you are receiving chemotherapy in combination with biological therapy. The symptoms, which can last 1-3 days, may include muscle and joint aches, headache, tiredness, nausea, slight fever, chills, and poor appetite.
- Fluid retention—Your body may retain fluid because of hormonal changes from the therapy, the drugs themselves, or the cancer. Retaining fluid can cause swelling or puffiness in your face, hands, feet, or abdomen. In serious cases, fluid can build up around heart and lungs.
- Eye problems—If you have contact lenses, chemotherapy may make wearing them painful. Other eye problems related to chemotherapy include blurry vision and watery eyes.
- Fatigue—You may feel tired or extremely exhausted. Fatigue may be related to the chemotherapy drugs, emotional strain (including depression and anxiety), or other conditions that you may have, like anemia or an infection.
- Cognitive problems—You may have difficulty remembering things or feel confused at times. This can be due to not getting enough sleep or taking certain chemotherapy drugs or other medicines.
Your healthcare team can explain other side effects that you may experience and treatment options to make you feel more comfortable.
Talk to Your Doctor
Remember that you are an individual, and the way that you respond to chemotherapy will be different than the way other people respond. You may not experience all of the side effects that your healthcare team describes. And if you do have problems related to the chemotherapy, there are treatments available, like medicine to reduce nausea and vomiting. Work with your healthcare team by sharing concerns that you have and by asking about strategies that can help you get through this challenging time.
Chemotherapy and you. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf. Published June 2011. Accessed June 25, 2012.
Understanding chemotherapy: a guide for patients and families. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003025-pdf.pdf. Updated March 17, 2011. Accessed June 25, 2012.
What are common side effects. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/TreatmentTypes/Chemotherapy/UnderstandingChemotherapyAGuideforPatientsandFamilies/understanding-chemotherapy-common-side-effects. Updated March 17, 2011. Accessed June 25, 2012.
Last reviewed June 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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