Chemotherapy Side Effects

Chemotherapy does often cause side effects, through the severity varies person-by-person and by type of drug.  Medications to prevent side effects may be given prior to, alongside or after chemotherapy treatment. Potential side effects from chemotherapy include:

Decreased Blood Cell Production: Blood cells, including red blood cells, white bloods cells and platelets, are continually being produced in the bone marrow. Because these cells are always dividing, they are also targeted by chemotherapy, so the number of all blood cells can be reduced. This is called myelosuppression.

The most important thing you can do is be alert for signs of myelosuppression. If you notice these symptoms, tell your doctor immediately.

Diarrhea Nausea and vomiting

Fatigue: Severe fatigue can be a symptom of anemia and should be mentioned to your doctor.

Chemo brain: Various treatments may impair your cognitive function which can lead to something known as “chemo-brain”, “brain fog”, or “cancer-related cognitive disorder”. You may notice difficulties concentrating or paying attention, remembering new things, recalling old memories or saying the right words. For most patients, these symptoms will get better in the months following the completion of treatment. If you continue to experience these symptoms, discuss them with your doctor.

Changes in taste: Chemotherapy can often alter the taste of foods. Familiar foods can taste different (called dysgeusia) or food flavours can taste less intense than normal (hypogeusia). Taste changes are usually temporary and disappear once your chemotherapy treatment is finished.

Loss of appetite

Sexual Issues: For women, chemotherapy may leave you with temporary or permanent damage to your ovaries leading to hormonal changes or menopausal changes.  This may cause hot flashes, vaginal tightness, and vaginal dryness. Ask your doctor about treatment options.  For men, chemotherapy may lower your testosterone levels and/or damage blood flow to the penis, resulting in various sexual concerns such as the inability to keep a firm erection (also known as erectile dysfunction), penile pain, or difficulty reaching orgasm. Many men find it difficult to discuss their sexual concerns with others; however, your doctor, or a specialist in sexual health, can help you overcome these issues. It is also important that partners practice safe sex and use a condom during treatment to ensure none of the chemotherapy chemicals are passed to your partner.