The medicine attacks fast-growing cells. It can also hurt healthy cells. This can cause side effects. Side effects vary. It depends on the type of medicine and which healthy cells are affected.
Damage to healthy cells that line the mouth, stomach, and intestines can cause:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Loss of hunger
- Mouth sores
Healthy blood cells can be damaged. Damage to blood cells can lead to:
- Anemia—low red blood cell count
- Weakened immune system with a higher risk of infections
- Easy bruising and bleeding
Damage to healthy cells at the root of hairs can cause hair loss.
Other areas may be harmed:
- Nerves—damage or irritation may cause numbness and tingling in the hands and feet called peripheral neuropathy
- Kidney—medicines can pass into urine and damage kidneys
- Heart—certain medicines can harm the heart muscle
- Reproductive organ—some chemotherapy medicines may cause:
- Menstrual cycle problems
The medical team will choose a plan that works best and has the fewest problems. Other methods may also help manage problems.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org
National Cancer Institute https://www.cancer.gov
BC Cancer Agency http://www.bccancer.bc.ca
Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca
Chemotherapy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/chemotherapy.html. Accessed October 9, 2017.
Chemotherapy and you: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/chemo-and-you. Updated June 2011. Accessed October 9, 2017.