- Cancer 101: Cancer Explained
- Guide to Breast Cancer
- Skin Cancer Risks
- Patient Comments: Chemotherapy - Coping With Side Effects
- Patient Comments: Chemotherapy - Experiences
- Patient Comments: Cancer - Patient Experience
- Find a local Oncologist in your town
- Chemotherapy facts*
- What is chemotherapy?
- How does chemotherapy work?
- What does chemotherapy do?
- How is chemotherapy used?
- How does my doctor decide which chemotherapy drugs to use?
- Where do I go for chemotherapy?
- How often will I receive chemotherapy?
- Can I miss a dose of chemotherapy?
- How is chemotherapy given?
- How will I feel during chemotherapy?
- Can I work during chemotherapy?
- Can I take over-the-counter and prescription drugs while I get chemotherapy?
- How will I know if my chemotherapy is working?
- How much does chemotherapy cost?
- What are clinical trials and are they an option for me?
- Tips for meeting with your doctor or nurse
- Your feelings during chemotherapy
- Chemotherapy side effects
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Chemotherapy side effects
What causes side effects?
Chemotherapy is designed to kill fast-growing cancer cells. But it can also affect healthy cells that grow quickly. These include cells that line your mouth and intestines, cells in your bone marrow that make blood cells, and cells that make your hair grow. Chemotherapy causes side effects when it harms these healthy cells.
Will I get side effects from chemotherapy?
You may have a lot of side effects, some, or none at all. This depends on the type and amount of chemotherapy you get and how your body reacts. Before you start chemotherapy, talk with your doctor or nurse about which side effects to expect.
How long do side effects last?
How long side effects last depends on your health and the kind of chemotherapy you get. Most side effects go away after chemotherapy is over. But sometimes it can take months or even years for them to go away.
Sometimes, chemotherapy causes long-term side effects that do not go away. These may include damage to your heart, lungs, nerves, kidneys, or reproductive organs. Some types of chemotherapy may cause a second cancer years later. Ask your doctor or nurse about your chance of having long-term side effects.
What can be done about side effects?
Doctors have many ways to prevent or treat chemotherapy side effects and help you heal after each treatment session. Talk with your doctor or nurse about which ones to expect and what to do about them. Make sure to let your doctor or nurse know about any changes you notice - they may be signs of a side effect.
Medically reviewed by Jeffrey A. Gordon, MD
American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialties in Medical Oncology and Hematology
National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health
Last update: 12/11/2009