When confronted with a diagnosis of cancer, chemotherapy can be an effective line of treatment to tackle the disease. As with many medical interventions, chemotherapy often comes with side effects due to its impact on both cancer cells and some healthy cells.
Here are 10 common side effects of chemotherapy and offer tips on how to manage them:
Many individuals undergoing chemotherapy experience fatigue.
It’s crucial to rest and maintain a balanced sleep schedule. Consider scheduling short naps during the day and engaging in light exercise, such as walking, which can boost energy levels.
2. Nausea and vomiting
These side effects are among the most common with chemotherapy.
Speak to your doctor about anti-nausea medication. Eating smaller meals more frequently, and avoiding spicy or fatty foods can help. Ginger tea and dry crackers can also soothe the stomach.
3. Hair Loss
Chemotherapy can affect hair follicles, leading to hair loss on the scalp and other parts of the body.
Consider cutting your hair short before treatment begins to make hair loss less noticeable. Invest in comfortable headwear like hats, scarves, or wigs. Remember, hair usually grows back after treatment ends.
4. Mouth sores
Sores inside the mouth or on the lips can be a result of chemotherapy.
Avoid spicy, hot, or acidic foods. Soft, bland foods can be easier to consume. Regularly rinse your mouth with a saltwater solution, and discuss suitable pain relief with your doctor.
5. Changes in appetite
Chemotherapy can result in both increased and decreased appetite.
Eat balanced meals, even if they’re smaller than usual. Nutritional supplements can be beneficial. Seek the advice of a dietician if appetite changes are significant.
6. Diarrhoea or constipation
Digestive disturbances are common.
For diarrhoea, stay hydrated and consider an over-the-counter anti-diarrhoeal after speaking to your doctor. For constipation, increase fibre intake, drink plenty of water, and consider a gentle laxative if needed.
Some patients may feel numbness, tingling, or burning in their hands and feet.
Safety is paramount. Wear gloves when handling cold items, and avoid hot water. There are medications available to ease symptoms, so consult with your doctor.
8. Skin and nail changes
Chemotherapy can cause dry skin, itchiness, and changes in nail colour or texture.
Moisturise regularly with a mild, unscented lotion. Wear sunscreen when outside. Keep nails short, and avoid nail polish or false nails.
9. Cognitive changes
Often referred to as “chemo brain”, some patients report difficulties with memory, attention, or other cognitive functions.
Keep a daily planner, set reminders, and engage in brain-stimulating activities. Be patient with yourself and consider discussing your symptoms with your doctor or a therapist.
10. Bone marrow suppression
This can lead to a decreased number of blood cells, increasing the risk of infections, anaemia, and bleeding.
Regular blood tests can monitor your cell counts. Wash your hands frequently, avoid crowded places, and notify your doctor if you feel unwell or have a persistent fever.
It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with chemotherapy is unique. While some may experience many of these side effects, others may encounter only a few or none at all. Regular communication with your healthcare team is crucial, as they can provide individualised advice and interventions. Above all, self-compassion and patience are key. The journey may be tough, but with the right strategies, these side effects can be managed and mitigated.
Eric Harbinger is a health writer with a passion for holistic wellness and an advocate for patient empowerment.
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