Chemotherapy side effects

Table of Contents:

  1. What are chemotherapy side effects?
  2. Symptoms of Chemotherapy Side Effects
  3. What are the causes?
  4. Can they be prevented?
  5. Which specialist is involved?

What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

The side effects of chemotherapy are all those disorders or changes in the body that may occur as a result of chemotherapy treatment for the treatment of cancer.

They can affect the mouth, intestine, skin, hair and bone marrow. Although some are common, they do not always affect all patients, as it depends on the type of medication used to treat the tumor, and may vary from one person to another.

Normally the side effects of chemotherapy occur mainly in tissues with high cellular turnover, such as mucous membranes, hair follicles and blood. The Medical Oncology specialist should identify the chemotherapy that best suits the individual patient, limiting side effects as much as possible.

Chemotherapy treatment usually affects the mouth, intestine, skin, hair and bone marrow,
hair and bone marrow.

Symptoms caused by chemotherapy side effects

Some of the main side effects that chemotherapy can produce are:

  • Gastrointestinal tract and digestive tract disorders. Normally it is translated with vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, alteration of taste, inflammation and ulcers in the mouth, since the mucous membranes of the digestive tract are subjected to a continuous and rapid cellular renovation.
  • Tiredness and generalized feelings of fatigue due to a combination of factors, including medication, lack of sleep and rest, or poor nutrition.
  • Bone marrow suppression and immunosuppression. In this process, there is compression of the bone marrow, which then loses its ability to regenerate blood cells. This can, in turn, lead to anemia, leukopenia and thrombocytopenia.
  • Depending on the medications taken by the patient, hair loss may occur, or the patient may suffer limited alopecia.
  • Skin problems, such as cutaneous xerosis, associated with itching, changes in skin pigmentation, nail changes, mucositis, radiodermatitis, alopecia and photoreactivity.
  • Peripheral neuropathy, related to the peripheral nervous system, which may present as tingling in the hands and feet.
  • Fertility and sexuality-related problems. They are usually associated mainly with psychological aspects, but can also be physical, such as problems related to the female mucous membranes, which may have been damaged by chemotherapy and may make sexual intercourse painful.
  • Depending on the drugs taken by the patient, damage to other organs such as the lungs, heart, liver or kidneys may occur.
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What are the causes of the side effects of chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a treatment that acts on active cells, which are cells that are constantly growing and dividing into more cells of the same type. Cancer cells are active, but so are healthy cells. And some of the most affected cells are usually, as mentioned above, those in the blood, mouth, digestive system and hair follicles. The side effects of chemotherapy occur precisely when chemotherapy damages healthy cells.

Can they be prevented?

The specialists will help the patient to prevent and/or treat the side effects. As far as possible, they will try to avoid them, adapting the type of chemotherapy to the patient. In addition, specialists are constantly researching to develop drugs, drug combinations and different ways of administering treatments with fewer side effects. Today, many types of chemotherapy are easier to treat than in the past.

Most chemotherapy-related pain goes away or improves between treatments. However, in some cases the nerve damage gets worse with each dose. In such cases the drug causing the nerve damage should be stopped. It is important for the patient to communicate any perceived pain to the case team so that the doctor can provide supportive treatment.

In addition, chemotherapy is often adjusted to minimize low blood cell counts and other drugs are also used to treat any blood disorders so that the marrow produces more blood cells, thus preventing diseases such as anemia, infections and thrombocytopenia.

Most side effects disappear when the treatment ends, but others may remain. In any case, the team that takes the patient will help and support him/her at all times, with the aim of minimizing them as much as possible.

Which specialist treats it?

The specialists who treat the side effects of chemotherapy may be medical oncologists but also specialists in Family Medicine, Home Medicine and even Acupuncture.