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13 Side Effects of Chemotherapy and How to Manage Them

13 Side Effects of Chemotherapy and How to Manage Them

Chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that makes use of chemo drugs to destroy cancer cells. The duration and intensity of chemo depends on the type of progression of cancer.

Though intended to heal, chemotherapy may also cause certain ailments, or side effects. Read on to learn more about the possible effects of chemo drugs and chemotherapy.

How to Fight Chemotherapy Side Effects

1. Fatigue

A person who is undergoing chemotherapy or is using any kind of chemo drug will eventually feel exhausted, confused, impatient, and drowsy.

They may start to lose strength in doing their daily activities and feel heaviness in their limbs and exhibit signs of being worn out easily.

Here’s how to fight chemotherapy side effects related to fatigue:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Try acupuncture.
  • Take breaks regularly.
  • Seek ways on how to manage anxiety and/or sleeping problems.

2. Hair loss

Hair loss, also known as alopecia, is one of the most common forms of side effects of chemotherapy.

However, this does not apply to every type of chemo drug therapy. The effect of chemo drugs in regards to hair loss varies, for instance, some may lose hair all at once right after chemotherapy, others may gradually lose their hair, while some do not lose hair at all.

Hair loss usually takes place 2 to 3 weeks from the first chemo drug treatment. Before a person starts to experience hair loss, they will first feel discomfort in their scalps such as itchiness, tingling, tenderness, and a high temperature.

Here’s how to fight chemotherapy side effects related to hair loss:

  • Make sure the scalp and hair are always clean.
  • Comb or brush hair in a gentle manner.
  • Avoid using nylon pillowcases.
  • Cover your head with a beanie or turban when it gets too cold.

3. Easy bruising and bleeding

If platelet levels are low, this will cause bleeding problems.

What this means is, a person will start to bruise easily, experience frequent bleeding in the gums and nose, and the bleeding of wounds or cuts will last longer than normal.

Here’s how to fight chemotherapy side effects related to easy bruising and bleeding:

  • Be careful when handling sharp objects.
  • Use a soft toothbrush.
  • Gently blow your nose.
  • Apply pressure on a bleeding wound for 10 minutes and bandage (if needed)

how to fight chemotherapy side effects

4. Constipation and Diarrhea

Some chemo drugs, medications for pain, and drugs that prevent one from vomiting can cause diarrhea.

Here’s how to fight chemotherapy side effects related to constipation and diarrhea:

  • Eat foods that are high in fiber.
  • Always stay hydrated.
  • Exercise.
  • Avoid enemas.
  • Avoid spicy foods and go for bland foods.
  • Limit alcohol intake.

5. Anemia

Red blood cells show a drop in number due to chemotherapy and this can cause dizziness, tiredness, lethargy, and breathlessness to a person.

Here’s how to fight chemotherapy side effects related to anemia:

  • Talk to your doctor about the best diet for you as well as taking iron supplements.
  • They may prescribe medication to prevent anemia.
  • If anemia becomes severe, know that a blood transfusion is an option.

6. Nausea and vomiting

People may also feel nauseated due to chemo drugs, although, not everyone will experience this. For those who will, nausea will last for quite some time (long hours) after receiving the treatment right away. It may also span up to days after the treatment as well.

Here’s how to fight chemotherapy side effects related to nausea and vomiting:

  • Avoid heavy meals before treatment.
  • Always stay hydrated.
  • Drink carbonated drinks if your stomach feels upset.
  • Do not skip meals.

7. Appetite changes

People start to show changes in their appetite because chemo drugs affect the taste of food, this is not permanent though. For some, it may last a few weeks, while for others, this may persist for a longer period of time.

The person who is undergoing chemo drug therapies will start to prefer various kinds of food or will not feel the urge to eat at all.

Here’s how to fight chemotherapy side effects related to appetite changes:

  • Eat small, frequent meals.
  • If solid foods make you nauseous, go for hearty soups and healthy smoothies.
  • Use plastic utensils, especially if the chemo drugs leave a metal taste in your mouth.
  • Get active to stimulate your hunger and appetite.
  • Set a schedule around the time when you feel most hungry.
  • Have healthy snacks handy.
  • Speak to your doctor or dietitian about the best diet for you.

8. Infection

There is a possibility that white blood cells may lessen due to chemotherapy, and this will have a negative effect on the body since these blood cells are in charge of providing immunity.

When immunity is low, infections can easily make their way into the human body. And the body may not be able to defend itself well due to the low number of white blood cells.

Here’s how to fight chemotherapy side effects related to infection:

  • Avoid people who are unwell.
  • Observe proper hygiene such as the washing of hands.
  • Prepare and store food properly to avoid food poisoning.
  • Avoid eating raw food.

how to fight chemotherapy side effects

9. Mouth, tongue, and throat problems

Ulcers and infections are common side effects of chemo drugs. Problems encountered in the mouth, tongue, or throat area are also usually caused by radiation therapy.

How to manage mouth, tongue, throat side effects of chemotherapy:

  • Use a soft toothbrush.
  • Always hydrate and eat moist foods.
  • Rinse your mouth at least four times a day using 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate soda (or salt) in warm water.
  • Do not use a mouthwash that contains alcohol.

10. Nerve problems

Nerve problems, also known as peripheral neuropathy, cause numbness or pain in areas such as the fingers, toes, and muscle weakness in the legs.

Here’s how to fight chemotherapy side effects related to nerve problems:

  • Keep hands and feet warm by wearing socks and gloves.
  • If you want to check the temperature of something, use your elbows.
  • Be careful when you move or lift to prevent hurting yourself.

11. Skin and nail changes

The nails will darken and white ridges may start to form on their surface. Also, the nails may eventually become dry and brittle. However, are not permanent and will gradually grow out.

On the other hand, the skin will start to become more sensitive to the sun. The skin will also start to peel, darken, start to itch, and become dry.

Here’s how to manage nail and skin side effects of chemotherapy:

  • Use moisturizing soap and lotion.
  • Use sunblock with SPF 50+.
  • Avoid swimming pools with chlorine.
  • Do not shave and wax.
  • Wear loose clothing.

12. “Chemo brain”

This concerns the ability of a person to remember things as well as their concentration and focus.

Chemotherapy affects these things negatively. Although it may not be permanent and will heal over time, some people go through chemo brain for several years.

Here’s how to manage this side effect:

  • Keep track of things by using a calendar.
  • Jot down important things that you need to remember.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Keep your brain active by learning something new.

14. Changes in Libido and Fertility Problems

Chemo drugs can affect the sex drive of a person. What’s more, said drugs may also affect the functionality of sex organs for both male and females. This, in turn, could result in fertility problems as well.

Here’s how to manage this side effect:

  • Communicate with your partner and discuss your difficulties with your doctor.
  • Make sure to get a lot of rest before engaging in any form of sexual activity.
  • Practice other gentle forms of intimacy, such as kissing, touching, and cuddling. Though non-sexual in nature, this will help bring you and your partner closer. Intercourse is not the only form of intimacy.
  • Join support groups and talk to your doctor about how to boost your libido.
  • If you plan to conceive after treatment, be sure to tell your doctor about it.

Other Common Side Effects of Chemo Drugs include:

  • Mood changes
  • Weight changes
  • Urine, bladder, and kidney problems

It is important to know the various kinds of side effects of chemo drug therapy so that people will know what to expect and how to manage them.

Learn more about cancer diagnosis and treatment, here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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Written by Jen Mallari Updated Jul 22, 2021
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel