Chemotherapy

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Chemotherapy side effects

Side effects are problems caused by cancer treatment. Some common side effects from chemotherapy are fatigue, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, mouth sores, and pain.

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

SOURCE:

National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health
Last update: 12/11/2009

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