Cancer cells divide more quickly than healthy cells, and chemotherapy drugs effectively target these cells. Also read Side effects of chemotherapy on the body
Unfortunately, fast-growing healthy cells can also be damaged. There are many various chemotherapy drugs by the potential for many various side effects. These effects range from person to person & from treatment to treatment.
Factors that play a role in side effects include other ongoing treatments, previous health problems, age, and lifestyle.
Some patients have few side effects while others feel quite sick. Although most side effects emerge shortly after the end of treatment, some may continue well after the end of chemotherapy and some may never go away.
Chemotherapy drugs are more likely to affect digestive tract cells, hair follicles, bone marrow, the mouth and the reproductive system. However, cells from any part of the body can be damaged.
1. Nervous and muscular system
The central nervous system controls emotions, mentalities and coordination. Chemotherapy drugs can cause memory problems, or make it difficult to focus or think clearly.
This symptom is sometimes called “chemical fog” or “chemotherapy brain”. This mild cognitive impairment may disappear following treatment or may last for years. Severe cases can increase anxiety and stress.
Some chemo drugs can cause pain, weakness, numbness, or tingle in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy). Muscles may feel tired, achy, or shaky. Reflexes and small motor skills may be slowed. It’s not unusual to experience problems with balance and coordination.
2. Skin, Hair, & Nails (Integumentary System)
Many chemotherapy drugs affect the hair follicles and can cause hair loss (alopecia) within a few weeks of the first treatment. Hair loss can occur on the head, eyebrows, eyelashes and body.
As disturbing as possible, hair loss is temporary. New hair growth usually begins several weeks after the final treatment.
Some patients have minor skin irritations such as dryness, itching, and rash. You can develop a sensitivity to the sun, which makes it easier to burn. Your doctor may recommend topical ointments to soothe irritated skin.
The nails and nails of the feet can become brown or yellow and become wrinkled or fragile. The growth of nails can slow down, and nails can crack or break easily. In severe cases, they can actually separate from the nail bed. It is important to take care of your nails to avoid infection.
3. Kidneys & Bladder (Excretory System)
The kidneys work to excrete the powerful chemotherapy drugs as they move through your body. In the process, some kidney and bladder cells may become irritated or damaged.
Symptoms of kidney damage include decreased urination, swelling of the hands and feet (edema) and headaches. Symptoms of bladder irritation include burning sensation in urine and increased urinary frequency.
You will be asked to drink plenty of fluids to flush your system’s medications and maintain your system properly. Note: Some medications cause red or orange urine for a few days. This is not a concern.
4. Skeletal System
Most people – and especially women – lose bone mass as they get older. Some chemotherapy drugs can cause a drop in calcium levels and contribute to bone loss. This can lead to cancer-related osteoporosis, especially in postmenopausal women and those whose menopause has been suddenly caused due to chemotherapy.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women who have been treated for breast cancer have an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture. This is due to the combination of drugs and lower estrogen levels.
Osteoporosis increases the risk of bone fractures and breakage. The most common areas of the body to undergo breaks are the spine and pelvis, hips and wrists.
5. Psychological & Emotional Toll
Living with cancer and treating chemotherapy may require an emotional toll. You may be afraid, stressed or anxious about your appearance and your health.
Some people may suffer from depression. Juggling professional, financial & family responsibilities as undergoing cancer treatment can become overwhelming.
Many cancer patients are turning to complementary therapies such as massage and meditation for relaxation and relief. If you have trouble coping with it, tell your doctor.
They may suggest a local cancer support group where you can talk with other people who are undergoing cancer treatment. If feelings of depression persist, professional counseling may be required.