Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects

The treatment of cancer may include the use of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery or some combination of all of these therapeutic options. All of these treatment options are directed at eradicating the cancer within the patient’s body. Unfortunately, the delivery of cancer therapy, including chemotherapy, often affects the body’s normal organs and tissues not affected by cancer. The undesired consequence of damaging healthy cells is a complication of treatment, or a side effect. Side effects may be acute (short-term), chronic (longer-term), or permanent. When cancer treatments are evaluated, side effects are measured and reported as part of the treatment evaluation.

What are the most common side effects?

All chemotherapy is associated with a wide variety of side effects; however, some side effects occur more frequently than others. Whether you will experience side effects, which ones, and their severity depends on a variety of factors, including your type of cancer, the type of chemotherapy drug or regimen you are taking, your physical condition, your age, and others. However, the following side effects are typically associated with chemotherapy:

Can anything be done about side effects?

Fortunately, in the last 20 years there has been a great deal of progress in the development of treatments to help prevent and control the side effects of cancer therapy. These developments have:

  • Led to vast improvements in the management of symptoms associated with cancer treatment
  • Allowed chemotherapy to be delivered with greater accuracy and consistency,
  • Made many cancer treatments more widely available.

For example, modern anti-vomiting drugs, called antiemetics, have reduced the severity of nausea and vomiting with chemotherapy. In addition, blood cell growth factors are now available to protect patients from infection, to reduce the fatigue associated with anemia, and to ensure that treatment can be delivered at the planned dose and schedule for optimal outcomes.

For more information on managing specific side effects, please follow the link to our Survivor Guidebook.

When to Call Your Doctor

The development of any of the following symptoms during your chemotherapy treatment may indicate a serious condition.  If you experience any of the following throughout your cancer treatment, please inform your doctor.

  • Fever higher than 100.5º F
  • Shaking chills
  • Vomiting that occurs longer than 24 hours
  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Shortness of breath/chest pain
  • Severe constipation or diarrhea
  • Painful or frequent urination
  • Blood in the urine or stool
  • Soreness, redness, swelling, pus, or drainage at your VAD site
  • Irregular or rapid heart beat
  • Pain that is not relieved by your pain medication.
  • Inability to eat and continued weight loss

Frequently Asked Questions

It is best to write down any question you or your family members may have in regards to your diagnosis, treatment and possible side effects prior to your appointment with our medical oncology staff at Portneuf Cancer Center.  Some of the more common questions include:

How does the proposed chemotherapy work?
How is this chemotherapy given?
How often will I receive chemotherapy?
What are the side effects of chemotherapy?
Will my chemotherapy make me sick?
What tests will be performed?
Will I lose my hair because of my treatment?

What activities can I still participate in while I am on chemotherapy?

The answers to these questions and more vary widely from patient to patient.  The information provided within this website is not intended as medical advice. It should never be substituted for a consultation with your medical oncology provider.  It is also helpful to bring a support person to your appointment so that they may be able to take notes for you.

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