Managing the Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Updated at: Jun 15, 2016
Managing the Side Effects of Chemotherapy

When you are receiving chemo, you must discuss the side effects of the treatment and its management with your doctor beforehand. Make a plan for coping with each one that may come up so you are not caught unaware.

Himanshu Sharma
CancerWritten by: Himanshu SharmaPublished at: Mar 04, 2014

Chemotherapy (chemo) is one of the treatment procedures for cancer. The treatment approach kills cancerous cells in the body or help remove/shrink existing tumours. Chemo can be administered like a flu shot, depending on your doctor's recommended treatment.




Chemo has its risks; the common side-effects of chemo include nausea, loss of appetite, hair loss, fatigue, fever and pain. There could be lasting side-effects such as memory loss, heart problems and risk of future cancer.


Fatigue and Pain

Chemotherapy can leave a person feeling extremely fatigued. A sore and painful throat, mouth or gums and problems with nerves, muscles, kidney, bladder and intestines are common in patients who pursue/ have pursued chemo.

Prepare yourself for depression and fatigue beforehand. Plan your day, drink lots of water, take naps and exercise to keep your energy levels up.


Kidney Functions

According to the National Kidney and Urologic Disease Information Clearinghouse, the kidneys are responsible for processing more than 200 quarts of blood per day. Some chemotherapy drugs may cause damage to the kidneys and interfere with its function. Gradually, the kidneys may get damaged.

You need to drink plenty of fluids, especially just before a chemotherapy treatment, to prevent kidney issues. If you are not able to drink enough fluids, administer an IV drip of fluids.


Low Blood Count

You may have low-blood count after chemotherapy as the procedure can affect bone marrow functions. This can result in reduced production of red and white blood cells (anaemia and neutropenia).

Undergo a transfusion; both platelets and red blood cells can be transfused into a patient to treat low blood counts. Sometimes, treatment may need to be stopped which may give blood counts a chance to improve.


Hair Loss

The chemo treatment kills all growing cells within the body- both cancerous as well as healthy cells. In a few days after beginning chemotherapy sessions, patients experience partial or entire hair loss suddenly. Some patients experience hair loss in other parts of the body as well, such as the eyebrows, eyelashes, legs, arms, underarm and pubic hair.

You need to treat your hair gently if you retain some or all of it. If you lose it, decide whether you want to shave your head and use a wig.


chemotheraphy side effects


Nail Changes

Many of the side-effects from chemo treatment are unexpected; one such effect is changes to the fingernails and toenails. It doesn’t often occur and but is as horrifying as hair loss. There can be forms of lines on the nail, discoloration of the nail bed and brittleness. Dry cuticles and the complete nail lifting off the nail bed are common too.

Discuss your nail changes with your oncologist. Keep your nails short, both fingers and toes. Carefully clip any hang nails with sterilized clippers.



There is a certainty of chemo drugs affecting your cognitive functions. A patient may have fuzzy thoughts, short-term memory loss and trouble recalling things. This condition is referred to as chemo-brain.

If you find it difficult to remember things, make a note of them. Slow yourself down, avoid making quick decisions and get organised.


Menopause Symptoms

Many female chemo patients report symptoms such as hot flushes and insomnia (similar to that of menopause). Owing to the reduced hormone production, they are at greater risk of temporary to permanent menopause.

The treatments such as hormone replacement therapy can help reduce the discomfort of symptoms experienced during menopause.


When you are receiving chemo, discuss the side effects of the treatment and its management with your doctor. Make a plan for coping with each one that may come up so you are not caught unaware.



Read more articles on Chemotherapy.




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