Chemotherapy does not hurt any more than any other injection. If you feel pain during an injection, or any unusual sensation in your hands or arms afterwards, tell your Oncologist or Chemotherapy Nurse immediately.
Are there any side effects?
Some patients feel quite well during chemotherapy, while others develop some side effects. The nature of the side effects varies with the drugs used. There are some general ones. They are usually caused because the drugs affect normal cells as well as cancer cells. Normal cells will recover quickly after chemotherapy, so if you have any side effects they will soon go away.
Occasionally there may be a side effect which takes a long time to go away. Your Oncologist will discuss this with you if this is likely.
Some common side effects include:
Rash – Rashes should always be reported to your own Doctor or Nurse.
Sore mouth – If you develop a sore mouth during chemotherapy, use a mouthwash frequently to soothe it. Clean your teeth or dentures thoroughly after eating, to prevent infection. You may feel more comfortable leaving your dentures out whenever possible. Avoid eating spicy food, and eating or drinking anything that is either very hot or very cold.
Nausea – Some patients feel sick for a few days after chemotherapy, but they don’t always vomit. Tell your Oncologist if you feel sick, because there are tablets to reduce this.
Loss of appetite-You may not feel like eating very much during chemotherapy. Try to eat a little at a time. If you don’t feel like cooking, or there is no-one to help you, use convenience foods, or have nourishing drinks available from chemists and some supermarkets. The Dietician at your hospital can advise you.
Diarrhoea/constipation – Both are easily managed by diet or by medicines so let your Oncologist know if you have either diarrhoea or constipation.
Hair – some patients find that their hair becomes thin, and others may lose all of their hair during chemotherapy. It can be very distressing but the hair always grows back when the treatment is completed. Sometimes it starts to grow back before this. You may be given an ice pack to put on your head during an infusion to help reduce hair loss. If you still lose your hair it can be disguised by a wig. Ask at your hospital about this because they are available on the NHS and will be provided before you start your treatment.
How does chemotherapy affect my bone marrow?
The bone marrow is where your blood cells are made. These include white cells, red cells and platelets.
White cells are the blood cells that fight infection. If their production is reduced you may develop a temperature or a sore throat and you should report this to your doctor. While you are having chemotherapy, try to avoid people with infections, (such as colds, sore throats, chicken pox etc). Red cells carry oxygen. You may feel tired or short of breath if their production is reduced.
Platelets help the blood to clot, for instance if you have a cut. If you do not have enough platelets, you will find that you bleed for a long time if you cut yourself, and that you bruise very easily.
You will have a “rest” period after each course of chemotherapy so that your bone marrow has a chance to recover. Your Oncologist will check that your bone marrow is back to normal by taking a blood sample and counting the number of cells (blood count) before you begin each course
What about my other medicines?
It is important that you tell your Oncologist about any medicines that you are taking. It may be necessary to prescribe an alternative for you.
What about vaccinations?
Because of the possible effects of chemotherapy it is very important to tell the doctor that you are receiving chemotherapy before having a vaccination. You should not receive any “live virus” vaccinations. These are polio, measles, rubella (German Measles), BCG (tuberculosis), smallpox, and yellow fever.