What are some of the common side effects of chemotherapy?


Nausea and vomiting, or a sick feeling in your stomach may be experienced after chemotherapy. Patients will be given some medication to take before and after your chemotherapy to avoid nausea and vomiting.


    How do I manage this side effect?


  • Take your anti-nausea drugs as prescribed by your doctor – even if you don't feel sick to your stomach.
  • Before you have chemo, make sure you've eaten something.
  • Avoid spicy foods and very hot, very cold or overly acidic foods.
  • Avoid strong odors like fish or perfume.
  • Eat small meals often.
  • Try relaxation, meditation and deep breathing techniques to help you relax.
  • If you find the anti-nausea drugs are not effective, talk to your doctor so he or she can prescribe a different one.


Mouth sores (mucositis) or dry mouth can occur for one to two weeks after your chemotherapy. Let your nurse, doctor or pharmacist know if you have painful sores or white patches in your mouth. You may be prescribed some medication to help relieve the symptoms.


    How do I manage this side effect?


  • Rinse your mouth with baking soda and water.

  • Chew on ice chips; some women also find that frozen yogurt, ice milk or shakes made in a blender help to soothe their mouth.

  • Avoid foods that irritate your mouth like spicy foods or food that is acidic or rough.

  • Do not use commercial mouthwashes.

  • Use a soft toothbrush.

  • Eat food that is at room temperature.

  • Do not smoke or drink alcohol.

  • Talk to your doctor if it becomes too painful to eat.


Hair loss (alopecia) may start two weeks after your first cycle of chemotherapy. Your hair usually starts to come back four to six weeks after chemotherapy treatment stops.


    How do I manage this side effect?


To prepare for losing your hair, you may want to:


  • Buy a wig – there are many styles and options these days for women undergoing chemotherapy. Ask your health care team where to buy your wig as it’s important to get the right fit.

  • Try caps, scarves or turbans to protect your head from the sun or cold.

  • Cut your hair before you start losing it; some women find it easier to maintain shorter hair as they lose it.


Infections can occur as chemotherapy may affect your white blood cells; the cells that help your body fight off infection. As a result, you may be at increased risk of infections. Signs of infection are fever, chills, sore throat, rash or diarrhea, or redness, swelling or pain around a wound or sore. If you experience fever, temperature of 38 C or higher, chills or signs of infection, go immediately to an emergency room and tell them you are taking chemotherapy– you may need tests and antibiotics.


    How do I manage this side effect?


  • Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap often – especially before and after meals and after going to the washroom.

  • Avoid contact with people who have colds or other contagious diseases, as well as children who have recently had vaccinations.

  • Don't tear or cut the cuticles of your nails – use a nail file if you need to trim your nails.

  • Avoid sharp objects like razors or knives.

  • If you get cuts or scrapes, keep them clean, monitor closely for signs of infection.

  • Use a soft toothbrush.

  • Moisturize your skin with lotion or oil if it becomes dry or cracked.

  • Use gloves if you’re gardening or cleaning up after children or animals. Litter boxes should be cleaned by someone else.

  • Wear shoes to protect your feet.

  • Use sanitary napkins instead of tampons and deodorant instead of antiperspirant.

  • Be gentle during sexual intercourse – use lubricants if necessary to avoid tears in the vagina.


Other common side effects of chemotherapy


Fatigue is common especially on the first day after treatment. Levels of fatigue differ from woman to woman. Some women take some time off work, while others are able to go on with their normal activities. If you continue to feel exhausted after your chemotherapy, let your doctor know. It’s important to maintain a balanced diet and continue to be as physically active as you feel comfortable.


Constipation or a change in your bowel habits can occur while on chemotherapy. Drink plenty of fluids, keep active and, if necessary, take a mild stool softener. If you find your constipation is a problem, talk to your doctor or nurse.

                                                          

Pain and muscle aches may result from some chemotherapy drugs. The healthcare team will give instructions about what medicines to use to relieve the pain.


Menstruation cycles can be affected by chemotherapy, causing it to be irregular or stop temporarily during your regimen, and then start again. Chemotherapy may also stop your periods permanently, but this doesn’t mean you can't get pregnant, so you should use some form of contraception (do not use birth control pills or any hormone based contraception). It’s difficult to predict how treatment will affect your periods, but doctors know that changes in menstruation are more likely to happen in women closer to menopause and in women taking six months of chemotherapy instead of three months. Talk to your doctor about how your chemotherapy regimen might affect your menstrual periods.



What are some of the common side effects of radiation therapy?

Two of the most common side effects that women undergoing radiation therapy experience are fatigue and skin reaction.


Fatigue may be noticeable as your radiation therapy continues. Approximately one in three women report feeling noticeably tired. If you’re among those women, you should start feeling your energy levels improve two to three months after the radiation treatment is completed.


    How do I manage this side effect?


  • Maintain a balanced diet – do not skip meals.

  • Cut back on high-stress activities but continue to be active.

  • Have an afternoon nap but keep your longest sleep for the night.


Skin reactions can be a problem. Your skin may become itchy, red, warm, dry and more sensitive. In fact, this irritation may resemble sunburn: bright red and peeling, with a tan that develops later. Usually, if you have skin irritations, they’ll worsen within the first two weeks after radiation is finished – but you will gradually begin to heal.


    How do I manage this side effect?


  • Keep your skin dry during the course of treatment but make sure your skin is sufficiently moisturized with a cream or lotion that your nurse or doctor recommends.

  • Wear breathable, loose fabrics like cotton.

  • Leave the affected area open to air when possible.

  • Dust the area with cornstarch if your nurse or doctor advises this; it may help to keep the ink marks intact and may also help relieve itchiness.

  • Bathe or shower as you normally would but avoid using soap in the radiation area. To dry yourself off, pat your skin with a towel.

  • If your skin is peeling or blistered, you might try a cortisone cream or aloe vera lotion.

In some women, skin reaction can include a leaking of fluid from the area treated by radiation therapy. If this happens to you, be sure to tell your radiation oncologist or nurse. You may need a medicated cream to treat this reaction.



What are some of the common side effects of hormone therapy?

The side effects will vary from woman to woman. Depending on which hormone drug you’re taking, your side effects will also vary.


Hot flashes mainly occur in women who are in perimenopause or are premenopausal (meaning they haven't gone through or that they’re about to go through menopause). If you experience hot flashes while on hormone therapy, you’ll be relieved to know that they’re usually temporary. There are ways to decrease hot flashes.


     How do I manage this side effect?


  • Increased levels of activities, such as exercising regularly, can help reduce hot flashes and other symptoms related to menopause.

  • A balanced healthy diet can help boost your energy, manage your weight and control your hot flashes.


Swelling from fluid retention can make your hands or feet swell. If the swelling is minor, try elevating the affected area above your heart to reduce the flow of fluid to the swollen area. If the swelling is severe, speak with your doctor right away.


    How do I manage this side effect?


  • Help redue the flow of fluid into the swollen area by elevating the swollen area. If possible raise the swollen area above your heart.

  • Avoid standing for long periods.

  • Wear loose clothing so fluid can flow easily out of the swollen area.

  • Avoid salty food as salt can make you retain fluid.


Other common side effects of hormone therapy


Vaginal discharge may be clear or whitish. A bloody discharge is abnormal and you should report it to your doctor.


Irregular menstruation and/or vaginal bleeding are possible.


Weight gain is common but most women only gain a few pounds. Do not diet – instead, continue to maintain an active lifestyle and eat a balanced diet.


Vaginal dryness or irritation may cause problems during sexual intercourse. If you’re feeling discomfort, using a non-hormonal vaginal lubricant may help. If you’re still feeling dryness, talk to your doctor or nurse about other lubricants.


  • Changes to your vision or cataracts.


Nausea and vomiting can happen with some hormone therapy drugs but usually gets better as your body gets used to the treatment. 


Muscle or joint pain. Taking an over-the-counter pain medication can help.


Blood clots may form in the lung or leg during hormone therapy. Symptoms can include a hardened vein, pain or swelling in the leg(s), calf tenderness or trouble breathing and chest pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, go to the nearest emergency room. It is also important to let your doctor and nurse know if you have a family history of blood clots.



What are some of the common side effects for biological therapy?

Biological therapies work throughout the entire body and can lead to side effects that also affect the entire body.


The side effects of targeted therapies depend on the type of drug taken, the length of time it’s taken, the dose and your overall health. Talk to your doctor if you experience side effects from taking targeted biological therapies.


Skin rash. Your skin may become itchy, red, warm, dry and more sensitive.


    How do I manage this side effect?

  • Keep your skin dry during the course of treatment but make sure your skin is sufficiently moisturized with a cream or lotion that your nurse or doctor recommends.

  • Wear breathable fabrics like cotton.

  • Leave the affected area open to air when possible.

  • Dust the area with cornstarch if your nurse or doctor advises this; it may help to keep the ink marks intact and may also help relieve itchiness.

  • Bathe or shower as you normally would but avoid using soap. To dry yourself off, pat your skin with a towel.

  • If your skin is peeling or blistered, you might try a cortisone cream.


Nausea and vomiting or a sick feeling in your stomach may be experienced after treatment.


    How do I manage this side effect?


  • Take your anti-nausea drugs as prescribed by your doctor – even if you don't feel sick to your stomach.

  • Avoid spicy foods and very hot, very cold or overly acidic foods.

  • Avoid strong odours like fish or perfume.

  • Eat small meals often.

  • Try relaxation, meditation and deep breathing techniques to help you relax.

  • If you find the anti-nausea drugs are not effective, talk to your doctor so he or she can prescribe a different one. 


Cardiovascular problems such as heart failure, high blood pressure, irregular or very fast heartbeat, heart attacks and chest pain can happen with some medicines. Heart health and function is tested prior to starting therapy. Tests may also be done on a regular basis during your treatment. Symptoms of heart failure may include: increased shortness of breath with activity, ankle and leg swelling and shortness of breath.


Talk to your doctor if you experience more uncomfortable side effects.