Possible Side Effects Of Chemotherapy
Chemo drugs can cause side effects. These depend on the type and dose of drugs given, and the length of treatment. Some of the most common side effects of chemo include:
- Nausea and vomiting
Chemo can also affect the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow, which can lead to:
- Increased chance of infection
- Easy bleeding or bruising
Other side effects are also possible. Some of these are more common with certain chemo drugs. For example:
Most of these side effects tend to go away after treatment is finished. Some, such as hand and foot numbness, may last for a long time. There are often ways to lessen these side effects. For example, you can be given drugs to help prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting.
Be sure to discuss any questions about side effects with your cancer care team. Report any side effects or changes you notice while getting chemo right away so that they can be treated promptly. In some cases, the doses of the chemo drugs may need to be reduced or treatment may need to be delayed or stopped to prevent the effects from getting worse.
Pain Or Nerve Changes
Some of the drugs used for chemotherapy may cause changes in your nervous system. These changes can be temporary or permanent. Other changes in the body can cause pain as well. It is important to talk with your doctor or nurse about any pain or nerve changes you may be having. Your cancer treatment center may have a pain or palliative care clinic or team that you can work with to manage your pain.
Long Term Side Effects Of Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer
Infertility is one of the most common long term side effects associated with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy for breast cancer can lead to menopause like symptoms hot flashes, irregular periods and dryness of vagina are commonly experienced. The ovarian cells are damaged and ovulation stops resulting in infertility. If your periods are regular, there is a chance of getting pregnant during treatment but the chemotherapy drugs can damage the fetus. Talk to your doctor regarding contraception before the treatment starts.
Bone density loss is one of the side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer patients due to premature menopause like state. There is increased risk of fractures and bone density loss should be measured periodically and treated to avoid any serious damage.
The nerve damage results in numbness or tingling sensation. Most of the times the nerves recover and the symptoms disappear after finishing chemotherapy but sometimes these can stay for a very long time.
4. Damage to the Heart
Some chemotherapy medicines can damage the heart muscles and this damage can be permanent. The most common drugs causing this side effect are epirubicin and trastuzumab , especially in high doses.
5. Effects on Cognitive Function
6. Higher Risk of Infections
Some infections require antibiotics and to increase the number of white blood cells rapidly, G-CSF or GM-CSF can be prescribed.
7. Other Side Effects
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Is Early Menopause A Risk Of Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer
Yes. If you have not gone through menopause, chemotherapy may stop your ovaries from producing estrogen. You may go into early menopause. If you want to have children in the future, discuss the risks of infertility with your healthcare provider.
Some womens ovaries begin working again after chemotherapy treatment. Women who want to bear children in the future may also choose fertility preservation before starting chemotherapy.
Will My Menstrual Flow Be Different After Chemotherapy
Menstrual cycles vary from woman to woman. Some women may experience less frequent cycles than they had prior to chemotherapy. They may skip a period or increase the number of days between periods. Other women may have more frequent periods.
Some women may not experience a change in the length of their menstrual cycles but the flow pattern may be different than it was before treatment . Mixed patterns are also common: some women may have shorter menstrual cycles with heavier bleeding, or infrequent cycles with many days of a very high flow.
Even though periods tend to be irregular around the time of menopause, it is important to be aware of bleeding that is not normal for you. It is very important to call your physician if you ever have very heavy bleeding that is associated with weakness or dizziness.
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Why Does Chemo Cause Side Effects
Cancer cells tend to grow fast, and chemo drugs kill fast-growing cells. But because these drugs travel throughout the body, they can affect normal, healthy cells that are fast-growing, too. Damage to healthy cells causes side effects. Side effects are not always as bad as you might expect, but it’s normal to worry about this part of cancer treatment.
The normal cells most likely to be damaged by chemo are:
- Blood-forming cells in the bone marrow
- Hair follicles
- Cells in the mouth, digestive tract, and reproductive system
Some chemo drugs can damage cells in the heart, kidneys, bladder, lungs, and nervous system. Sometimes, you can take medicines with the chemo to help protect your bodys normal cells. There are also treatments to help relieve side effects.
Doctors try to give chemo at levels high enough to treat cancer, while keeping side effects at a minimum. They also try to avoid using multiple drugs that have similar side effects.
Higher Risk Of Infections
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for breast cancer can stop your body from making white blood cells, which fight infections. Try to stay out of large crowds and away from sick adults and children for 7 to 10 days after you have chemotherapy. That’s when you usually have the fewest white blood cells.
Contact your doctor right away if you get sick. They might recommend antibiotics as a precaution. Other doctors suggest women get a flu shot before they start chemotherapy.
If your white blood cell counts are too low, your doctor may give you a treatment called G-CSF or GM-CSF .
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Effects On Your Concentration
Some people find treatment affects their ability to concentrate and makes them more forgetful.
This is sometimes called chemo brain or chemo fog, but your treatment team may call it cognitive impairment. It usually improves over time after treatment has finished, but for some people it can continue for longer.
Is Chemotherapy The Only Treatment For Breast Cancer
No. Occasionally, chemotherapy is the only breast cancer treatment, but most often, healthcare providers use chemotherapy with other treatments, such as:
- Lumpectomy: Removing the tumor and a small amount of surrounding breast tissue.
- Mastectomy: Removing one or both breasts.
- Hormone therapy: Taking medicines that lower estrogen or block estrogens effects on cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy: Taking medicines that target the changes in cancer cells to destroy them or slow their growth.
- Radiation therapy: Using high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells.
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What Do I Need To Know About Side Effects
- Every person doesnt get every side effect, and some people get few, if any.
- The severity of side effects varies greatly from person to person. Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about which side effects are most common with your chemo, how long they might last, how bad they might be, and when you should call the doctors office about them.
- Your doctor may give you medicines to help prevent certain side effects before they happen.
- Some chemo drugs cause long-term side effects, like heart or nerve damage or fertility problems. Still, many people have no long-term problems from chemo. Ask your doctor if the chemo drugs youre getting have long-term effects.
While side effects can be unpleasant, they must be weighed against the need to kill the cancer cells.
Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about which side effects are most common with your chemo, how long they might last, how bad they might be, and when you should call the doctors office about them.
Ovarian Ablation Or Suppression
In women who have not yet experienced the menopause, oestrogen is produced by the ovaries.
Ovarian ablation or suppression stops the ovaries working and producing oestrogen.
Ablation can be done using surgery or radiotherapy. It permanently stops the ovaries from working and means you’ll experience the menopause early.
Ovarian suppression involves using a medicine called goserelin, which is a luteinising hormone-releasing hormone agonist .
Your periods will stop while you’re taking it, although they should start again once your treatment is complete.
If you’re approaching the menopause , your periods may not start again after you stop taking goserelin.
Goserelin comes as an injection you have once a month.
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When Is Chemotherapy Given
When breast cancer is found only limited to the breast or lymph nodes, chemotherapy may be still be given after a lumpectomy or mastectomy. If the analysis of the findings from such a surgery suggests that there is a risk that cancer cells may have escaped from the breast and may be as yet undetectable elsewhere in the body, then chemotherapy may be recommended. This is known as adjuvant treatment and may help reduce the chance of breast cancer breast cancer recurrence.
Chemotherapy is sometimes given before surgery in order to shrink the tumor so it can be removed more easily or so that a lumpectomy can be performed instead of a mastectomy.
Chemotherapy may also be given as the main treatment for women whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body outside of the breast and lymph nodes. This spread is known as metastatic breast cancer and occurs in a small number of women at the time of diagnosis, or when the cancer recurs some time after initial treatment for localized breast cancer.
Chemo Brain And Stress
Many people experience mental changes after chemotherapy treatment. This is sometimes called chemo brain. You may have problems such as poor memory, trouble finding words, difficulty focusing. This can affect parts of your life, including caring for your family and managing your job.
Some things that help with chemo brain include keeping a calendar, writing everything down, and exercising your brain with puzzles and reading. Try to focus on 1 task at a time instead of more than 1 task. You can also work with an occupational therapist for cognitive behavioral rehabilitation. This is a treatment to help you if you have cognitive issues. Occupational therapists work in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Occupational and Physical Therapy. For more information about cognitive behavioral rehabilitation, talk with your healthcare provider for a referral.
Try to avoid having goals for yourself that are too high. This can add to your stress level and frustration. Most people say it takes 6 to 12 months after they finish chemotherapy before they truly feel like themselves again. Read the resource Managing Cognitive Changes for more information about managing chemo brain.
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Early Menopause And Menopausal Symptoms
As with natural menopause, you may have symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Because the onset of menopause is sudden, these symptoms may be worse than with natural menopause.
Early menopause can also affect bone health. Menopause can cause a loss of bone density .
You may also have muscle or joint aches.
Where You Have Chemotherapy
You usually have treatment into your bloodstream at the cancer day clinic. You might sit in a chair for a few hours so its a good idea to take things in to do. For example, newspapers, books or electronic devices can all help to pass the time. You can usually bring a friend or family member with you.
You have some types of chemotherapy over several days. You might be able to have some drugs through a small portable pump that you take home.
For some types of chemotherapy you have to stay in a hospital ward. This could be overnight or for a couple of days.
Clare Disney : Hello, my name is Clare and this is a cancer day unit.
So when you arrive and youve reported into with the receptionist, one of the nurses will call you through when your treatment is ready, sit you down and go through all the treatment with you.
Morning, Iris. My name is Clare. I am the nurse who is going to be looking after you today. Were going to start by putting a cannula in the back of your hand and giving you some anti sickness medication. And then I am going to come back to you and talk through the chemotherapy with you and the possible side effects you may experience throughout your treatment. Is that okay?
Each chemotherapy is made up for each individual patient, depending on the type of cancer they have and where it is and depending their height, weight and blood results.
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Six Ways To Prepare Yourself For Chemo
In 2015, Beth W. was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. After receiving her initial treatment at another facility, she sought out a second opinion at Cancer Treatment Centers of America®, where she eventually underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgerya nine-month treatment plan. For the past six years, Beths scans have shown no evidence of disease, and today, she serves in our Cancer Fighters program, helping other patients through their cancer journey with tips, advice and peer support. One aspect she gets the most questions about is how she dealt with chemotherapy. Here are the six ways she says she prepared for her treatments and the side effects they caused.
How Does Chemotherapy Work
Chemotherapy works by attacking fast-growing cells in your body, including cancer cells. There are many different types of chemotherapy your medical oncologist will talk to you about whats most suitable for you. Sometimes more than one type of treatment may be effective for you, and you may be asked to decide which one to have. Your medical oncologist can tell you about the pros and cons of each.
Some questions you might like to ask include:
- What are the possible side effects of each treatment?
- How long is the course of each treatment?
- How will the treatment fit in with my lifestyle and personal circumstances?
Some chemotherapy drugs are given in tablet form, however, most are administered intravenously . As a result, it is useful to drink plenty of fluids, relax and keep your hands and arms warm, as this can help the nurse or doctor find your veins.
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Types Of Targeted Therapies
There are several different types of targeted therapies available for the treatment of breast cancer.
Trastuzumab and pertuzumab are the two most common monoclonal antibodies used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer. These medications are typically administered through an IV infusion and are used in combination with chemotherapy.
After chemotherapy has finished, treatment with medications like Herceptin generally continues every 3 weeks over a total period of 1 year.
Neratinib is another type of targeted therapy, which is taken orally and is designed to help prevent the recurrence of HER2-positive breast cancer for patients whove completed 1 year of Herceptin.
Other drugs like lapatinib and tucatinib , both oral medications, and ado-trastuzumab emtansine , which is administered through an IV, are also available for the treatment of advanced HER2-positive breast cancer.
Possible Side Effects Of Chemo For Breast Cancer
Chemo drugs can cause side effects, depending on the type and dose of drugs given, and the length of treatment. Some of the most common possible side effects include:
- Hair loss
- Hot flashes and/or vaginal dryness from menopause caused by chemo
- Nerve damage
Chemo can also affect the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow, which can lead to:
- Increased chance of infections
- Easy bruising or bleeding
These side effects usually go away after treatment is finished. There are often ways to lessen these side effects. For example, drugs can be given to help prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting.
Other side effects are also possible. Some of these are more common with certain chemo drugs. Ask your cancer care team about the possible side effects of the specific drugs you are getting.
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When Are Side Effects An Emergency
Contact your doctor urgently if you have any of the following symptoms after chemotherapy:
- Fever or chills can be a sign of infection and need urgent attention.
- Mouth ulcers, swollen tongue, bleeding gums
- Dry throat and difficulty on swallowing
- Persistent cough
- Any change in your bowel habits
- Increased or decreased frequency of urination, or any pus or blood in urine
- Severe vomiting or diarrhea
Are There Ways To Prevent Hair Loss With Chemotherapy
Not everyone loses hair when receiving chemotherapy, but many people do. Some peoples hair only thins. Others lose the majority or all of their hair.
Using a cold cap can reduce hair loss. Cold caps cool your scalp before, during and after chemotherapy treatment. Cooling tightens the blood vessels in your scalp, potentially reducing how much chemotherapy goes to your hair follicles.
People may choose to wear a wig as a result of hair loss. Some private insurance companies may help cover wig costs if your doctor prescribes a cranial prosthesis or hair prosthesis. Medicare Parts A and B do not cover wigs, but the costs may be tax-deductible.
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Chemotherapy Drug Interactions And Side Effects
When looking at how best to combine chemo drugs, doctors must look at interactions between chemo drugs and other medicines the person is taking, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements. These interactions may make side effects worse and affect how well chemo drugs work.
Its important that you tell your doctor about all medicines, including over-the counter medicines, vitamins, herbal or dietary supplements you are taking even if you only take them as needed.
For instance, platelets help blood clot and prevent bleeding. Many chemo drugs lower the number of platelets for a time. Taking aspirin or other related drugs can also weaken blood platelets. This isnt a problem for healthy people with normal platelet counts, but if a person has low platelet counts from chemo, this combination might put them at risk of a serious bleeding problem.
Your doctor can talk with you about the safety of using other medicines, vitamins, and supplements while you are being treated for cancer.