Chemotherapy is a treatment for cancer. It is designed to kill the cancerous cells in the body, but at the same time it can cause harm to cells that are normal and healthy. Not all of the healthy cells are affected, but those that divide more rapidly tend to be the ones that get damaged. The cells that line the digestive tract and reproductive tract, the hair follicles cells and the bone marrow and blood cells are those that are often seen as the most affected.
When damage occurs to these healthy cells it causes several reactions in the body, however, everyone may experience different side effects to the chemotherapy. Some may be more sensitive to the treatments and it can also depend on the type of chemo, the dosage and the way the drug is administered.
Nausea and vomiting is one of the side effects that are most common with chemotherapy treatments. There are several types of chemotherapy and a good part of them can cause this symptom. One reason for the nausea is due to the drugs irritating the stomach lining. When our stomach is irritated it causes stimulation of certain nerves and receptors and the result can be vomiting. The best way for patients to avoid extreme nausea is by taking prescription medications made particularly for this reason. If you continue to take your anti-nausea medications and take them before the symptoms begin, you may be able to ward of the worst of the nausea and vomiting that can be a result of chemotherapy.
One of the major side effects associated with chemotherapy is hair loss. Some of the chemotherapy drugs will have an effect on the cells that grow hair in our hair follicles. This condition is called alopecia. Thankfully the side effect is considered temporary and the hair usually grows back once all treatments are over with, however, patients should be prepared for the fact that they may lose some or all of their hair between the second and third weeks after chemotherapy has begun.
During your course of treatments your blood will be monitored closely. You will undergo several blood tests to watch your white blood cells, red blood cells and blood platelet levels can be evaluated. The cells that being made in the bone marrow reproduce very quickly they are often the most affected. Having too little white blood cells can result in a life threatening infection, too little red blood cells can result in anemia and too little blood platelets can result in serious blood loss. These are all serious conditions that need to be monitored closely. You can expect to have your blood tested often, if not every day during chemotherapy.
Some other temporary side effects that can be present with chemotherapy treatments are weight loss and appetite suppression, mouth sores, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, heart, lung, kidney, liver or nerve damage, memory loss and sexual disorders. Remember, your doctor will discuss all of these possibilities with you and keep in mind most of these side effects are temporary throughout the duration of the treatments. Not all chemotherapies are the same, and dosage and length of treatment time can also play an important role in the severity of symptoms. Although the side effects of chemotherapy may seem scary it has been determined by your doctor that it is the best choice for curing your type of cancer. Make sure to become educated on all the possible symptoms associated with the type of chemo drug you will be taking. This can help you prepare for all the physical and psychological changes that you will be experiencing.