What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy works by destroying cancer cells; unfortunately, it cannot tell the difference between a cancer cell and a healthy cell. The delivery of cancer therapy often affects the body’s normal tissues or organs that are not affected by cancer. Side effects, or complications of treatment are the undesired consequence of affecting normal cells. Side effects of treatment may cause inconvenience, discomfort, and occasionally even fatality to patients. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, side effects may prevent delivery of the full dose of chemotherapy on schedule. This is extremely important to understand since your expected outcome from chemotherapy is based on delivering treatment at the full dose and schedule prescribed in the treatment plan Because the expected outcome from therapy is based on delivering treatment at the prescribed dose and schedule, a change from the treatment plan may reduce your chance of achieving an optimal outcome. This is extremely important to understand. In other words, side effects not only cause discomfort and unpleasantness, but may also compromise your chance of cure by preventing the delivery of therapy at its optimal dose and time. The most common side effects of chemotherapy are low blood counts, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and fatigue. Some side effects may be temporary and merely annoying. Others, such as infection or a low white blood count, can be life-threatening. For example, one of the most serious potential side effects of chemotherapy is a low white blood cell count – a condition called neutropenia (new-truh-pee-nee-ah) – which can put you at risk for severe infections or treatment interruptions. Fortunately, last 20 years has brought a great deal of progress in the development of treatments to help prevent and control the side effects of cancer therapy.

These developments have:

  • Led to vast improvements in the management of symptoms associated with cancer treatment
  • Allowed for greater accuracy and consistency concerning the administration of cancer treatment
  • Made many cancer treatments more widely available to patients throughout the world.