Chemotherapy side effects
Chemotherapy drugs work by targeting cancer cells as they divide and reproduce. Cancer cells are vulnerable because they divide more quickly than others but some healthy cells also reproduce at a fast rate.

Hair, nails, skin cells, blood cells, the lining of your mouth and digestive system are continually renewing. During chemotherapy, these healthy cells can also be damaged, although they usually can recover after treatment ends.

Different chemotherapy cancer drugs can affect your body in different ways. The best way to find out about your specific treatment is to talk to your doctor but here are a few common side effects and what you can do to make them easier to deal with.

Tiredness Show/Hide

Feeling tired or fatigued is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Everyday tasks can start to feel like a big effort and you may find yourself out of breath easily.

Most people underestimate how much fatigue will affect them so it’s good to be prepared ahead of time.

  • Rest and take breaks – Set aside regular periods in the day when you can stop and take some time out. While it can be tempting to soldier on, pushing yourself too hard can wear you down over time and leave you feeling more tired later.

  • Get plenty of sleep – This seems basic but some cancer drugs can disrupt your sleep patterns so you may find it takes more planning than you’re used to. Try to settle into a regular routine. Take some time to unwind before going to sleep, avoid caffeine later in the day, and set a regular time that you go to bed every night. Sticking to a routine can make sure you get enough rest every day.

  • Exercise lightly - This might be the last thing on your mind but gentle exercise will build your stamina in the long run.

As chemotherapy also affects your blood cells, most people develop some form of anaemia during treatment. If you feel severely tired all the time, get in touch with your doctor.

Feeling Sick Show/Hide

Chemotherapy treatment can upset your digestive system. This can lead to mucositis as well as feeling ill, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Your doctor might prescribe some anti-sickness medication but there are some things that you can do to make things easier.

  • Avoid fatty foods
  • Don't eat directly before chemotherapy sessions
  • Eat several small meals instead of a two or three larger ones
  • Avoid your favourite foods around having treatment so that you don't associate them with feeling ill
  • Keep taking your anti-sickness medication, even if you don't feel ill.
Tell a doctor if your sickness becomes severe or if you get diarrhoea, flu-like symptoms, a high temperature, shivering or chest pains.

Your immune system will most likely be lowered as well. This is because your white blood cells will be affected by chemotherapy. Wherever possible, avoid ill people as even a cold can be tougher for your body to deal with during treatment.

Bruising, bleeding and sores Show/Hide

You may find that you are more susceptible to cuts and bruises during treatment. This is because your skin can become dry and brittle while you may find your blood takes longer to clot.

Mouth sores usually start one or two weeks after treatment begins. Coupled with nausea, this can make eating a chore. It's important to deal with mouth sores and any cuts early as a weakened immune system can leave you vulnerable to infection.

  • Moisturise your skin
  • Take extra care in the kitchen and around sharp objects
  • Use an alcohol free mouth wash
  • Use a soft tooth brush
  • Use an electric razor
  • Treat any cuts or sores straight away

Contact doctor if your mouth ulcers are preventing you from eating, if you are bleeding from your gums or your nose, of if you're bleeding for more than 10 minutes.

Hair loss Show/Hide

Patients usually start losing hair within 1-3 weeks of starting treatment. Like with everything, different people experience it in different ways from full hair loss to partial hair loss or thinning. Your doctor will be able to tell you more about what you can expect.

Most people see hair return six months after treatment ends but it can grow back differently to before. Some people notice that it is curlier or straighter than before and even a different colour.

  • Use baby shampoo to protect your hair
  • Don't use chemicals, hair colourings, etc
  • Avoid blow drying, curling, etc
  • Brush gently with a soft brush

Some people try to minimise hair loss by using a cool cap during treatment. This works by lowering blood flow to your head and so less of the chemotherapy drugs come into contact with your hair cells.

This animation shows how Gelclair can help to relieve the pain of oral lesions and ulcers caused by oral mucositis.
Apply for a free sample of Gelclair, which helps to relieve the pain oforal mucositis, a painful inflammation and ulceration of the lining of the mouth and throat.
Tell friends about Gelclair which helps to relieve the pain of oral lesions and ulcers from oral mucositis.
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