Chemotherapy Side Effects

It is true that chemotherapy kills cancer cells but it also damages healthy cells in our body. There are two types of side effects that are acute - short term side effects and chronic, which are long term side effects.

Side effects of chemotherapy may include mouth sours, constipation, diarrhea, pain, hair loss, vomiting, nausea and the side effects related to blood. Given below is the detailed explanation of chemotherapy side effect.

Side effects on CBC

The CBC means complete blood count; it is the test which helps the doctors to find out the side effects of chemotherapy. Following are the side effects related to the blood:

  • Anemia: Lower amount of red blood cells is the reason for anemia. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin or Hb that carries oxygen from lungs to muscles and organs of body. For the health of your tissues and organs, oxygen is essential. There are various options available to treat anemia. Red blood cell transfusions and erythropoiesis are two stimulating agents for increasing the amount of red blood cells in your blood.
  • Neutropenia: It is scientific name for low infection fighting white blood cell count. If the amount of white blood cells is low your body you feel weak while taking doses of chemotherapy drugs in high quantity. At this stage your doctor reduces your dose until the white blood cells reach the normal level.
  • Thrombocytopenia: The scientific name for a low platelet count is ‘Thrombocytopenia’. There may be bruising and excessive bleeding due to low platelet count.

The above mentioned side effects related to chemotherapy are diagnosed through the CBC test. Other side effects include the following:

Bone Marrow Suppression:

The bone marrow is the liquid or fluid found in the inner part of bones that plays an important role in production of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Bone marrow suppression is one of the most common side effects, in which bone marrow gets damaged.

Hair Loss:

Chemotherapy Side EffectsSome drugs used in chemotherapy may affect rapidly growing cells of the hair follicle. There may be some changes like hair fall or your hair may become brittle and break off from the scalp. This is a temporary side effect prevented by taking medicines. The hair loss mostly depends on the type of chemotherapy drug and the period of treatment. Some patients may experience complete hair loss and others thinning of hair. There may be possibility of hair fall of eyebrows, eyelashes, body hair and pubic hair but it is less severe because of the less active growth of the hair follicles compare to the growth of scalp hair. The hair loss during chemotherapy, or after the treatment is very common. Your hair may grow again after the completion of chemotherapy. However, hairs that grow after chemotherapy have different color and texture than that of your original hair. One may experience of depression or loss of self-confidence due to hair loss.

Mouth and Throat Sores:

Some drugs used for chemotherapy may cause sores in mouth and throat. Stomatitis refers to the inflammation or sores in the mouth. Pharyngitis is the similar change in the throat and the change in esophagus is called as esophagitis. Pale and dry appearance of mouth lining is the first sign of mouth sores. The tongue may have some problems like coating and swelling that leads to troubles like in, talking and eating. There may be other problems like bleeding, infection and painful ulcers due to stomatitis, esophygitis and pharyngitis. The sores in mouth, throat and esophagus are temporary and remain for 5 to 14 days after chemotherapy.

Change in Taste:

With chemotherapy treatment patients may complain of change in taste of food. It in turn can cause malnutrition, anorexia and weight change. The change in taste may cause more desire or dislike for sweet, tomato, tomato products, pork and beef or dislike for the food with bitter taste and feeling of medicinal taste in your mouth. There are receptor cells in our mouth that tell the flavor of the food you taste. The above mentioned changes occur because the changes are produced in the taste receptor cells due to chemotherapy. However, reasons like mouth infections, dentures, oral hygiene and unpleasant odors may also change the taste. These changes remain till your chemotherapy treatment  continues or even longer.


Constipation is a condition is with discomfort of hard, infrequent, dry stool. There may be increase in gas, bloating, pain and cramping, when you have constipation.

Reasons for constipation:

  • Decrease in intake of food and low fiber food
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Complete bed rest
  • Depression
  • Some chemotherapy drugs

To avoid this one most take food containing fibrous food and drink more water.

Change and Loss in Weight:

‘Anorexia’, may be caused by the use of some chemotherapy medicines. It may be mild but if it is severe then it may lead to ‘cachexia’, and causes malnutrition and wastage of muscles. The proper diet will help you recover the lose weight and provide strength to fight against disease and infection. Weight loss or appetite are temporary and we may gain weight after finishing chemotherapy treatment. There may be other reasons for weight loss like vomiting, diarrhea, appetite loss and side effects by drug. However, there may be other side effects like weight gain during cancer treatment. The reasons for this include inactivity, electrolyte imbalances, fluid retention and chemotherapy regimens containing steroids.


Fatigue is one of the most common side effects due to chemotherapy. You may experience certain feelings like weakness, lack of energy, weariness, constipation, forgetfulness and decrease in mental and physical functioning.

Heart Damage:

1 to 10 % of people undergoing chemotherapy treatment suffer from heart damage, especially damage to heart muscles due to drugs like doxorubicin, daunorubicin, anthrcyclines and other drugs. This can lead to fluid build up and other problems and you may feel symptoms like shortness of breath, dry cough, swelling and puffiness in hands and feet, erratic heart beats etc.

Thinking and Memory Change:

The chemotherapy treatment may change the way the brain functions. This change occurs after many years of treatment and very few numbers of people suffer by with this disease. There may be ill effects to brain’s activity like concentration, comprehension or understanding, memory and reasoning.

Changes in Nervous System:

There may be changes in the central nervous system, peripheral or cranial nerves because of the chemotherapy drugs. Cranial nerves are very important for movement and touch sensation of head, neck and face that are connected directly to brain. These nerves are also important for the sense of smell, taste, hearing and vision. And the peripheral nerves are important in movement, regulating activities of internal organs and touch sensation. These side effects occur in the early phase of chemotherapy or even several years later.

You may feel the following symptoms due to change in the central nervous system.

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Vomiting and nausea

Following are the symptoms you feel after damage of cranial nerves:

  • Decrease in sensation
  • Tingling
  • Numbness

Lung Damage

Drug like bleomycin can damage your lung. Receiving the radiation to the chest along with the chemotherapy can increase the chances of lung damage. The age is also an important factor that could cause lung damage. Belomyacin can damage lungs of people who are 70 years old and above. The symptoms of lung damage are dry cough, shortness of breath and fever.