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Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond

What are the Short and Long Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy?



As with most drugs, chemotherapy drugs do have side effects.  Side effects of chemotherapy are unwanted things that happen as a direct result of taking a drug.  It is easy to confuse drug side effects with symptoms of cancer.  Symptoms are the things that happen as a direct result of the cancer and have nothing to do with the drug. 

Different chemotherapy drugs have different short term and long term side effects and certainly not all chemotherapy drugs cause every side effect.   In general, chemotherapy damages cells that are dividing, so the parts of the body where normal cells divide frequently are likely to be affected by chemotherapy.  The mouth, intestines, skin, hair, bone marrow (the spongy material that fills your bones and produces new blood cells) are commonly affected by chemotherapy.  Hair is growing all the time. The skin is constantly renewing itself. So are the lining of the mouth and digestive system.  To do this, the cells of all these body tissues must constantly divide to produce a steady supply of new cells.  And when cells are dividing, chemotherapy drugs can attack them.

Although most anti-cancer drugs have side effects, not everyone will get these effects.  A person may experience no side effects of chemotherapy, some side effects, or all of them.  Whether or not a person will experience a particular side effect, when it will start and stop or how bad it will be depends on many factors.  Some of these factors are, how long a person has been taking the drug, a person's general health, the dose or amount of the drug, the way the drug is given, other drugs that may be given in combination.

Some important points to remember in regards to short and long term chemotherapy side effects are:

  • Some side effects of chemotherapy are serious medical conditions that need to be treated.
  • Some side effects are inconvenient or upsetting but are not damaging to your health.
  • Discuss side effects with your health care team.
  • If you are worried about a side effect call your doctor or the contact at the center where your treatment is being given (make sure you have a phone number of who to call).
  • Most side effects don't do any lasting harm and will gradually go away after treatment finishes.
  • If you do not get side effects, it does not mean your treatment is not working.
  • There are very few long term side effects of chemotherapy.  Most are short-term.

The side effects of chemotherapy can be unpleasant. But it can help to try to see the problems in relation to the benefits of the treatment.  Chemotherapy does not cause side effects in everyone.  It causes different reactions in different people.  Remember - almost all side effects are temporary.  They will slowly disappear once treatment stops.

More Chemotherapy Information:

Chemotherapy Terms
Chemotherapy Protocols - How Chemotherapy Works
How Chemotherapy Is Given
How Doctors Decide Which Chemotherapy Drugs To Give
How Long Chemotherapy Is Given
How To Tell If Chemotherapy Is Working
Cancer Cells & Chemotherapy
Types of Chemotherapy
Targeted Therapy
The Immune System
About Immunotherapy
Hormone Therapy
Chemoporotective Agents
Chemotherapy Resistance
Short & Long Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Nadir
Cancer Clinical Trials