With better control of side effects from chemotherapy, treatment is going more smoothly for many people with cancer.
The goal of chemotherapy is to destroy cancer cells. Traditional chemotherapies work by killing cells that divide rapidly. But as they wipe out fast-growing cancer cells, they also can damage fast-growing healthy cells.
Damage to healthy blood cells can lead to side effects such as fatigue or infection. Chemotherapy can also damage the cells that line mucous membranes throughout the body, including those inside the mouth, throat and stomach. This can lead to mouth sores, diarrhea or other issues with the digestive system. And damage to cells at the hair roots, or follicles, can lead to hair loss.
Each person with cancer reacts differently to chemotherapy and its potential side effects. Fortunately, doctors now have ways to reduce and even prevent these side effects. In this booklet, you’ll find practical information on managing side effects from chemotherapy so that your treatment goes as smoothly as possible.
To help you get relief, your doctors and nurses need to know specific details about your symptoms. By keeping a side effects journal and bringing it with you to medical appointments, you will have this kind of information ready to share with your health care team. Some of the things you may want to write down in your journal include:
• The date and time a side effect occurs
• How long it lasts
• How strong it is—for example, if you experience pain, how strong is it on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the least amount of pain and 10 the most intense?
• How your daily activities are affected—did any side effect of your medication keep you from sleeping, eating, walking, working or exercising?
• Any other questions or concerns that come up between appointments with your health care team
Good communication with your doctors and nurses is especially important if you decide to take part in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are studies that test new treatments to see how safe and effective they are for patients.
Your doctor, who knows the most about your specific type and stage of cancer, can guide you in making a decision about whether a clinical trial is right for you.