Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells because the medicines target rapidly dividing cells. But normal cells in your blood, mouth, intestinal tract, nose, nails, vagina, and hair also divide rapidly. So chemotherapy affects them, too.
The healthy cells in your body can repair the damage that chemotherapy causes — your hair will grow back and your energy levels will rise. But cancer cells can't repair themselves very well.
The side effects you may have from chemotherapy depend on the regimen you're on, the amount of medicine you're getting, the length of treatment, and your general health. The side effects you have may be different from someone else who is on the same regimen.
While your body is recovering from chemotherapy, other medicines can help ease many of the side effects you may have. It's important to tell your doctor and oncology nurse about any side effects you're having. If medicines aren't controlling the side effects, your doctor or nurse can help you find something that works.
Most chemotherapy side effects go away shortly after you've finished chemotherapy. Still, some side effects may take several months or longer to go away completely. When you and your doctor are deciding on a chemotherapy regimen, weighing the benefits versus the side effects is part of the process. Your doctor can give you an idea of the side effects you're likely to have.
Learn more about some of the most common chemotherapy side effects by clicking on the links below:
- anemia/low red blood cell counts
- fertility issues
- hair changes
- memory loss
- menopause and menopausal symptoms
- mouth and throat sores
- nail changes
- neuropathy (problems with hands and feet)
- taste and smell changes
- vaginal dryness
- weight changes
Chemotherapy also may cause other side effects that are less common, but more serious:
Read and download Community Member tips for chemotherapy treatment (PDF).
"If you have problems with symptoms, they can be improved. You should call. I get very upset if someone says, 'I was throwing up,' but they never called. I hate that, because we could have helped them, if we had known."-- Barbara Reville, M.S., CRNP