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What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. Chemotherapy has been used for many years and is one of the most common treatments for cancer. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce.

Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells.
Chemotherapy may be used alone for some types of cancer or in combination with other treatments such as radiation or surgery.

Often, a combination of chemotherapy drugs is used to fight a specific cancer. Certain chemotherapy drugs may be given in a specific order depending on the type of cancer it is being used to treat.

While chemotherapy can be quite effective in treating certain cancers, chemotherapy drugs reach all parts of the body, not just the cancer cells. Because of this, there may be many side effects during treatment. Being able to anticipate these side effects can help you and your caregivers prepare and, in some cases, prevent these symptoms from occurring.

Side effects of anti-cancer drugs

Chemotherapy can cure cancer because it kills cells. It kills cancer cells and it can kill normal cells. Killing normal cells can cause some unpleasant side effects. The side effects vary from one drug to another for many reasons. Not all chemo drugs cause hair loss, for example.

Common side effects of chemotherapy

  • Low blood counts causes an increased possibility of developing infection or anemia
  • Tiredness
  • Mouth soreness
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Skin changes or reactions
  • Pain or nerve changes
  • Changes in fertility and sexuality

Note that each chemotherapy agent or regimen has some side effects that are specific to it. Also, the actual side effects may vary a great deal from patient to patient.

Lasting effects of chemotherapy

The good news about these side effects is that there are ways to ease most of the symptoms. Sometimes, however, certain side effects can have long lasting or permanent effects.

For example, certain chemotherapy drugs can result in infertility or the inability to father a child which may be permanent. Certain options such as sperm banking may be available. Please talk to your doctor or nurse about any concerns before starting chemotherapy.

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