Chemotherapy: Side Effects

chemotherapy side effectsChemotherapy has quite a wide range of mild and also dangerous side effects. In some cases, patients may beat cancer, but they end up with various other conditions.

Before I put into view all the adverse effects of chemotherapy, here’s an explanation of this term.

What is Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy refers to cancer treatment, but various types of chemotherapy are used to treat or manage other conditions like Crohn’s disease, scleroderma, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Chemotherapy consists in a cocktail of drugs focused on eliminating cells that have a high division rate, in most cases, cancer cells. However, chemptherapy treatment also kills other that divide rapidly cells in the process, and that’s the main reason for the occurance of the various chemotherapy side effects.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Almost any patient undergoing a chemotherapeutic treatment will experience at least a few adverse effects. Chemotherapy side effects may differ depending on the treatment. However, the most common adverse effects of chemotherapy are basically the same. These are:

Fatigue. This is one of the first side effects of chemotherapy, that usually installs after the very first treatment session. Fatigue may be induced by anemia, and in case of anemia iron supplements or even blood transfusion are recommended.

Hair loss. This is one of the characteristic chemotherapy side effects. This adverse effect occurs because some of the treatments destroy the cells with rapid division, and the hair cells are also targeted. However, this side effect is usually reversible. Hair starts to grow back, after a few weeks from the last chemotherapy treatment session.

Gastrointestinal problems. Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea or constipation, intestinal and stomach pain are the common gastrointestinal issues that a patient will face while under chemotherapy. These side effects can be alleviated through a specific diet or with antiemetic drugs.

Weight loss or weight gain. In general, chemotherapy has weight loss as a side effect. Since it causes loss of apetite, patients may suffer malnutrition and dehydration. However, some patients can experience weight gain, due to the fact that they consume large amounts of food, to deal with their heart burn and nausea.

Immune system deficiency. Since chemotherapy destroys various cells in the body along with cancer cells, it also has an impact of the body immune system. Due to this fact, patients that undergo a chemotherapy treatment are exposed to various types of infections. In general, the most common infections that may occur are ones caused by the bacteria located in the patients oral cavity, digestive tract or at skin level.

Susceptibility to bleeding. Chemotherapy reduces the blood level of platelets, which may have as result, bleeding or bruising.

Organ damage. Since chemotherapy may cause severe organ damage, treatment must be made under direct supervision. Chemotherapy side effects of this nature are: liver damage, kidney damage, heart damage, brain dysfunction, inner ear damage. 

Infertility. However, not all chemotherapy treatments have an increased risk of causing infertility, only treatments based on drugs like ifosfamide, melphalan, cyclophosphamide, chlormethine or chlorambucil.

Of course, other chemotherapy side effects include, sexual dysfunctions, dry mouth or excessive thirst, paralysis, cognitive impairment, or allergic side effects like skin rashes and itchiness, facial edema and anaphylaxis.

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