Many cancer patients receive chemotherapy treatment, which does; however, have serious side effects. Some information concerning these is set out below.
What is Chemotherapy?
In Chemotherapy, treatment is by means of chemicals, often called ‘anti-cancer drugs’, because they kill off cancer cells and prevent their growth, or at least slow it down.
Chemotherapy may involve a number of different drugs in combination, and may be given before or after surgery, or together with other forms of therapy.
The drugs affect the patient’s whole body, and sometimes have difficulty defining which cells are normal and which are cancer cells. The body’s cells, both normal and malignant, are dividing all the time; fast dividing cells are especially targeted by the drugs.
The side effects which may be caused by this process are as follows:
Nausea- This side effect is very common, and in worst cases can lead to vomiting. It can also lead to dehydration and constipation, as well as loss of appetite.
Hair Loss- Although this hair loss is not permanent, people do find it distressing because of the effect on their appearance. The cells in your hair follicles are amongst the body’s fastest dividing cells.
Fatigue- Most cancer patients report feeling tired and lacking energy. This feeling can last for any length of time from a few days to some months. It is caused by low blood count, sleep disturbance, appetite problems and pain.
Constipation and Diarrhea- Other body cells which are particularly fast growing are those in the lining of the intestines. Damage to these cells leads to diarrhea. Other causes may also be malnutrition, stress and anxiety, or effects of colon surgery. Accompanying the diarrhea may be pains in the stomach, nausea, appetite loss, bloating or irritation of the skin.
Muscles and Nerves- Sometimes the drugs cause muscles to be sore or weak, or feelings of numbness, pain, tingling, burning or weakness resulting from nerve problems. These issues can lead to difficulties with hearing, walking or balance, or pain in the stomach or jaw, as well as trembling.
Hypersensitivity or Allergic Reactions- The patient’s immune system may respond to the drugs by allergic reaction or hypersensitivity. The most severe allergic reaction may be anaphylaxis, which is life threatening. Other possible reactions include swollen tongue, lips or eyelids, rashes or redness, and diseases of the kidney or liver.
Skin Problems- As well as allergic rashes, the drugs may also cause itchy, cracked, dry or flaky skin.
Sores in the Mouth & Throat- The throat and mouth linings are irritated by the drugs and can develop sores, or ulcers. These can make eating or talking painful. The throat and gums themselves may also be tender and sore.
Bone Marrow- Bone marrow cells are also fast dividers, and hence readily attacked by chemotherapy drugs. Platelets, red and white blood cells are all produced in the bone marrow, and reduced production of these has a number of effects, as outlined below.
Anemia-The effects on the bone marrow result in a reduced red blood cell count, and hence the blood is less able to carry oxygen around the body. Resulting symptoms include tiredness, weakness, dizziness and shortness of breath.
Infection- This results from reduced white blood cell count, making the body vulnerable to viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. The intestines, lungs, mouth and throat, genital tract and sinuses are areas commonly affected.
Bleeding- Reduced platelet production means a likelihood of bleeding, since the blood’s ability to clot is diminished. The patient may notice bleeding for a long time after a cut, easily bruising, blood in the stools, bleeding gums or nose, headaches, vision disturbance, and so on.
Flu-like Symptoms -For a few hours following chemotherapy the patient may notice flu-like symptoms, including joint or muscle pains, chills and fever, nausea and headache.