The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type of chemotherapy and the amount given. Anticipating and managing side effects can help to minimize them and provide the best possible experience for the person receiving chemotherapy.
As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his/her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.
Because anticancer drugs are made to kill growing cells, they also affect normal, fast-growing cells such as blood cells forming in the bone marrow and cells in the digestive tract (i.e., mouth, stomach, intestines, esophagus), reproductive system (i.e., sexual organs), and hair follicles. Some anticancer drugs may affect cells of vital organs, such as the heart, kidney, bladder, lungs, and nervous system.
Chemotherapy causes no serious long-term problems for most people. In some cases, however, chemotherapy can cause permanent changes or damage to the heart, lungs, nerves, kidneys, and reproductive or other organs. Further, certain types of chemotherapy may have delayed effects, such as a second cancer that develops many years later. Discuss any long-term effects that may result from your treatment with your physician.
Some anticancer drugs cause bladder irritation or result in temporary or permanent damage to the bladder or kidneys. You may need to collect a 24-hour urine sample for laboratory evaluation, and your physician may ask for a blood sample to evaluate your kidney function before you begin chemotherapy. Some anticancer drugs cause the urine to change color (orange, red, green, or yellow) or take on a strong or medicine-like odor for 24 to 72 hours. Consult your physician to determine if the chemotherapy drugs you are getting will cause any of these side effects.
Drinking plenty of fluids will ensure good urine flow and help to prevent problems--especially if you are taking drugs that affect the kidney and bladder. In addition to water, juice, soft drinks, broth, and soup, you may include ice cream, Popsicles, and gelatin to increase fluids. Caffeine can act as a mild diuretic, but even coffee is better than no fluids.
Because drugs can affect your kidney and bladder, be sure to let your physician know immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
The following are the most common symptoms of nerve and muscle involvement due to chemotherapy. However, each individual experiences symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Most of the time, these symptoms will resolve with time. However, this may take up to one year following treatment. The symptoms of nerve and muscle involvement due to chemotherapy may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends the following strategies for reducing nerve and muscle problems related to chemotherapy:
Many patients, both men and women, find that chemotherapy affects their sex organs as well as their ability to have sex. Your age and general health will influence how the drugs will affect your sexual function. The NCI provides the following advice for coping with sexual problems associated with cancer and chemotherapy:
Chemotherapy drugs can cause temporary or permanent infertility by reducing the number of sperm cells and their ability to move. While it does not necessarily affect a man's ability to have intercourse, it could create difficulty in getting or keeping an erection. Chemotherapy can also damage the chromosomes in the sperm, which could lead to birth defects.
Discuss with your physician the use of birth control during treatment, including using a condom for the first 48 hours following the last dose of chemotherapy, as some chemotherapy agents can be detected in the semen. Your physician can advise you regarding how long to use birth control. If you wish to father a child, you should consult your physician to determine whether the treatment will affect your fertility and discuss the possibility of sperm-banking before you begin your treatment.
Chemotherapy can have an impact on a woman's menstrual periods, fertility, and menopause. Consider the following:
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