Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Every type of chemotherapy has different side effects. Side effects associated with chemotherapy often result from the damage of healthy cells. Some examples are damage to the cells in your mouth (mouth sores), hair follicles (hair loss), and bone marrow (decreased numbers of blood cells). Because previously healthy cells usually repair themselves after chemotherapy, many side effects are temporary and resolve themselves soon after treatment stops. 

Hair Loss 

If you and your loved one know ahead of time that he or she might lose hair, there are ways to prepare. Cutting the hair short before treatment may help reduce the shock if/when the hair falls out. Finding hair pieces, hats, scarves, or other head coverings that your loved one likes (or at least can tolerate) may also make things easier. Hair loss can happen in all areas of the body including eyebrows, eyelashes, legs, underarm and genitalia. Most importantly: remind each other that if hair was there before - it will grow back! 

Nausea 

There are now effective treatments that can help with nausea from chemotherapy, so many people find that this side effect is not as bad as they expected. Complementary treatments like acupuncture and massage can help, but it is wise to ask your physician about this. 

Low Blood Counts 

Chemotherapy can lower the number of red blood cells (that carry oxygen throughout the body) and white blood cells (that help fight infection). There are treatments that can help increase the levels of red and white blood cells to healthy levels. However, recent research has found that not all of them are safe for all people being treated for cancer. Talk to the doctor about what options are available for your loved one. 

There are other side effects specific to different types of chemotherapy. Find out ahead of time what to expect with each type, so you and your loved one can prepare to the best of your abilit

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