Chemotherapy is powerful enough to kill fast-growing cancer cells but also it badly damages the healthy cells, leading to side effects throughout the body.
Find out what are the side effects of chemotherapy.
Cancer cells divide more rapidly than the healthy ones and chemotherapy has a very effective impact on them. Unfortunately, fast-growing healthy cells can fall into the trap of the killing.
There are many factors that play a role in the onset of various side effects – previous health problems, age, lifestyle and more. The degree of manifestation of adverse reaction is different in each patient. Although most of them disappear shortly after the treatment, some may continue after the completion of the chemotherapy, while others remain forever.
Chemotherapy most commonly affects the digestive tract, hair follicles, bone marrow, mouth and reproductive system.
Circulatory and Immune System
Monitoring of blood counts is an extremely important part of chemotherapy because it can harm cells in the bone marrow, where blood forms. This can lead to several problems. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues, and anemia occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough. Other symptoms of anemia include:
• pale skin
• difficulty thinking
• feeling cold
• general weakness
Chemotherapy can reduce the number of white blood cells, resulting in neutropenia. White blood cells play an important role in the immune system: they fight infection and prevent disease. Symptoms are not always obvious, but the reduced number increases the risk of infections and diseases. People with a weakened immune system should take precautions against viruses, bacteria and other microbes. One can take vitamin B17, which promotes immunity.
The cells called platelets help blood to clot. A low number (thrombocytopenia) results in easy bruising and bleeding profusely. Symptoms include nose bleeds, blood in vomit or stools, and heavier than normal menstruation.
Chemotherapy may weaken the heart muscle, leading to arrhythmia. This can affect the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively and increase the risk of heart attack, but it is unlikely coincidence if your heart is healthy at the beginning of the treatment.
The central nervous system controls the emotions, thought patterns and coordination. Chemotherapy can cause problems with memory and concentration. This mild cognitive impairment might go away after treatment, but may persist for years.
Chemotherapy can cause pain, weakness, numbness in hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy). Reflexes and motor skills may be delayed and a problem with balance and coordination may occur.
The most common side effects of chemotherapy appear in the digestive tract. Ulcers and dry mouth may make it difficult chewing and swallowing. Wounds can also form on the tongue, lips, gums or throat. Many patients complain of a metallic taste in the mouth, yellow or white coating on the tongue. Nausea and vomiting appears. However, some drugs help to alleviate this symptom. Other digestive problems are likely to happen are diarrhea or constipation, bloating and flatulence. These symptoms can be prevented by drinking enough water. Side effects associated with the digestive system can contribute to loss of appetite, but it is important to continue eating healthy food.
Hair, Skin and Nails
Chemotherapy leads to damage of the hair follicles, which can lead to loss of hair on the head, eyebrows, eyelashes and body. Hair growth usually begins again in a few weeks after the last procedure. Some patients experience minor skin irritation such as dryness, itching and rashes. You can develop sensitivity to the sun, which can cause serious burns. Nails may fade, become brittle or grooved. Their growth is slowed down and in more severe cases are separated from the nail bed. It is important to care for them, to avoid infection.
Chemotherapy may reflect on the hormones. In women, hormonal changes may be the cause of hot flashes, irregular menstruation or menopause. Treatment can lead to infertility. Some women during chemotherapy may experience dryness of the vaginal tissues, which can make intercourse painful and unpleasant. This also increases the risk of vaginal infections. Chemotherapy during pregnancy can cause harm to the fetus. Chemotherapy in men can damage the sperm, reduce their number and lead to infertility. It is possible that symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety and hormonal fluctuations can reduce the sex drive in both sexes.
Chemotherapy can cause damage to the kidneys and bladder. Symptoms include decreased urination, swelling of hands and feet (edema) and headache. Symptoms include impaired bladder burning sensation and frequent urination. You should drink enough fluids to relieve the symptoms.
Note: Some drugs lead to discoloration of the urine for a few days, but that is no reason to be concerned.
Most people, especially women may lose bone mass because chemotherapy reduces the level of calcium. According to the National Institutes of Health in the US, women who were treated for breast cancer are at increased risk of developing osteoporosis. This is due to the drugs and the decline in estrogen levels. Osteoporosis increases the risk of bone fractures. The most commonly affected areas are the spine, pelvis, hips and wrists.
Psychological and Emotional Impact
Going through chemotherapy may cause some emotional and psychological problems. Most people are scared, experiencing anxiety about their appearance and health, which can lead to depression. When these symptoms occur you should contact a specialist and try different relaxation therapies such as massage, meditation and acupuncture.