CANCER: CHEMOTHERAPY AND ITS SIDE EFFECTS

Kidney Damage

This is a side effect, which is closely monitored by regular blood testing of creatinine levels before onset of treatment. Some of the chemotherapy drugs, particularly Cisplatin, can cause permanent kidney damage if not monitored correctly. It is important to drink adequate amounts of water and to eat kidney-supporting foods.

Lethargy/Tiredness

Chemotherapy treatment tends to deplete energy levels. This is cumulative as the drugs build up in your system. Often the doctor tells you if you have plenty of energy after the first session of treatments this will determine your energy later. This is generally not true. Energy levels get worse with more and more treatments.

Loss of Appetite

This is a secondary side effect of nausea, vomiting, worry or stress. A yellow coating can become obvious on the tongue, which is slimy and has a foul taste. This often leads to a decrease in appetite.

Lung Damage/Shortness of Breath

Lung damage and shortness of breath is another side effect which is closely monitored. The effects of lung damage (primarily scarring of the lungs) are long term and may last for many years. If you experience any shortness of breath, tell your doctor immediately.

Nausea/Vomiting

This is the most common side effect related to chemotherapy. The nausea is due to the stimulation of an area in the brain known as the trigger zone (vomiting centre). Today doctors are using and testing much more potent anti-nausea drugs to combat the ghastly nausea and vomiting of chemotherapy which often leads to weight loss and malnutrition. Today’s most common anti-nausea drugs are Zofran and dexamethasone (a steroid). According to doctors, Zofran has revolutionized chemotherapy. It may make you feel better while the drugs are being put into you but hours after treatment, the nausea generally returns with a vengeance.

There are also a number of side effects related to the use of these drugs and steroids including constipation, pimples, thrush, exhaustion, weight gain/loss, fluid retention, emotional instability and sleeplessness. Doctors will often prescribe milder anti-nausea drugs after treatment like Maxalon. There are a number of different brands of anti-nausea medications, all giving a Band-Aid effect and carrying their own side effects. Maxalon can make you feel like a zombie.

Reproductive System

The rapidly proliferating structures of the reproductive system are particularly sensitive to the actions of cancer drugs. Many women who are still experiencing menstrual periods will experience irregular menstruation during treatment. In some women, menstruation stops completely. If this happens, hot flushes may also occur. Men may have decreased sperm numbers and motility. Some drugs used in chemotherapy may cause temporary and sometimes permanent infertility.

Feeling tired or unwell during treatment may also decrease your sexual desire and ability- I found my menstruation was perfect, both during and after chemotherapy. I believe this was due to a healthy, supportive diet rich in the appropriate nutritional supplements, herbs and natural therapies. Some combinations of chemotherapy drugs offer only a 30 per cent chance of fertility after treatment.

Weight Loss/Gain

Chemotherapy affects each person very differently. Some people may experience weight loss due to difficulty in swallowing or nausea, while others may experience weight gain due to the use of steroids in treatment.

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