Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the commonly used for the treatment of a cancer. However, even though they successfully fight against the cancer, these treatments entail many side effects that can affect the whole body system. These side effects of chemotherapy and radio therapy usually last as long as the treatment itself but some may last a lifetime. Some side effects of the cancer treatment with chemotherapy and radio therapy can be reduced and managed while others have to be simply tolerated.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
Chemotherapy uses drugs that can kill rapidly growing cells such as cancer cells. However, there are also normal fast growing cells in the body that are equally affected by chemotherapeutic drugs. These rapidly growing normal cells are blood cells, hair cells and skin cells. Chemotherapy may also affect the mouth and the lining of the digestive system. This is what causes side effects of chemotherapy. The length and the type of chemotherapy will determine the severity and form of chemotherapy side effects. Usually, normal cells recover after chemotherapy is over and side effects gradually diminish. But, in some cases the chemotherapy may cause permanent damage to the body organs or may have delayed effects when side effects show years later. There are several common side effects of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy almost always causes fatigue which is characterized by felling of excessive tiredness and lack of energy. Fatigue in people with cancer is different from fatigue in healthy people. Normally, fatigue can be relieved by rest and sleep which is not true in case of fatigue caused by chemotherapy. Fatigue that results from chemotherapy may last for few months after the treatment is over.
Chemotherapy causes pain due to nerve damage. Side effects of the treatment include peripheral neuropathy, which is painful numbness of extremities and paresthesia, which is numbness and tingling of the hands and feet. This can improve when the therapy is over but after several months. Luckily, the pain can be relieved with medications.
Loss of Hair
This is a very common side effect of the chemotherapy. This is only temporary and hair starts to grow back when the treatment is ended. However, not all chemotherapeutic drugs have this side effect.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are other common side effects of chemotherapy. This can be controlled with anti-sickness medications.
Other side effects of chemotherapy include:
- Fluid retention
- Blood clotting
- Mouth sores
- Bleeding ulcers
- Flu-like symptoms
Side effects of radiation therapy are usually related to the area of the body exposed to high doses of radiation. This treatment can lead to damage of the healthy cells in the treated area. Radiation therapy can also cause burns that can be treated topically. Common side effects include fatigue and skin changes such as dryness, itching, peeling and blistering.