Chemotherapy is often called chemo. It is primarily used to treat cancer patients. However, it may also be used for bone marrow diseases and immune system disorders, such as lupus. Chemotherapy drugs are powerful chemicals that destroy cancer cells, but also destroy your healthy cells. Chemo can be administered intravenously (through an IV) or orally (pills), and can cause some serious side effects.
Chemotherapy often causes nausea and vomiting, regardless of how it is administered. Patients may find it difficult to eat normally. However, good nutrition is important to keep your body as strong as possible. Ask your doctor for advice if you find it difficult to eat. Patients may also experience diarrhea or constipation.
Talk to your doctor about the possible sexual side effects of chemo pills. Chemo can alter the reproductive organs. In a woman, it can alter or even stop the menstrual cycle. It can also cause vaginal dryness. This may result in pain during intercourse. Women may also experience hot flashes (a sudden wave of heat all over your body). Chemotherapy may cause infertility in both men and women. Men may also experience impotence. Women should use birth control while on chemotherapy, as pregnancies can be dangerous.
Chemotherapy may affect your body’s blood cells. It may reduce the efficacy of your blood platelets. This can reduce your body’s ability to clot blood. If you cut yourself, you may bleed longer than you normally would. You may also notice that you are more susceptible to bruising. Chemo may also reduce the amount of red blood cells you have, resulting in anemia. Anemia symptoms include fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat and irritability. Chemotherapy can also decrease your white blood cell count, leaving you more susceptible to infections.
Your doctor can inform you of the possible long-term effects of chemotherapy. These problems can occur months or years following your completion of chemotherapy. While the specific side effects will depend on the drug that you take, some of the common long-term effects may include neuropathy (nerve damage), infertility, heart problems, kidney problems, lung tissue damage and the risk of developing a second cancer.
Talk to your doctor about how to deal with the side effects from chemo pills. Tell him if you experience nausea and vomiting. Because this type of chemotherapy is taken by mouth, if you vomit, you may expel some of the drug. Your doctor can prescribe other medications that can help control your nausea and vomiting. If you experience pain, you may also take another medication to control it. Another common side effect of chemotherapy is hair loss. Once you finish your course of treatment, your hair will begin to grow back.