|Potential Side Effects of Chemotherapy:
The side effects a breast cancer patient experiences while undergoing chemotherapy vary significantly depending on several factors, including the types of drugs used, their dosages, and the duration of treatment. Some patients experience few to no negative effects from chemotherapy. In most cases, the benefits of treating cancer with chemotherapy far outweighs the risks or inconveniences of any side effects.
Most Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy:
* nausea and vomiting
Hair Loss (Alopecia):
* hair loss (alopecia)
Examples of drugs that may be more likely to cause nausea or vomiting include cisplatin, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, etoposide (high doses), etc. In most cases, drugs may be prescribed to help reduce nausea or vomiting due to chemotherapy.
Hair loss (alopecia) is another fairly common side effect of chemotherapy. Hair loss, which is temporary, may occur in some women because hair follicles are weakened by chemotherapy, causing hair to fall out at a much faster rate than normal. Most patients who experience hair loss will not begin losing their hair until after the second chemotherapy session and will find that it grows back, sometimes with a change in texture, after the chemotherapy is complete. There are several options available for women who lose their hair during chemotherapy, including a variety of wigs and head wear.
Low White Blood Cells (Leukopenia and Neutropenia):
Low blood cell counts (white and red blood cells) and platelet counts are other possible side effects from chemotherapy. White blood cells are an essential component of the body's immune system. Normal white blood cells counts range between 4,000 and 10,000 white blood cells per cubic millimeter. A low white blood cell count is called leukopenia. There are several types of white blood cells, including neutrophils, which help the body fight infection. Neutropenia is the term used for a sharp decrease in the number of neutrophils. Special guidelines should be followed to avoid infection if this occurs. Neutropenia can usually be treated with agents used to stimulate the immune system and should always be monitored closely by the patient and her treating physician.
Low Red Blood Cells (Anemia):
Chemotherapy can also cause a reduction in the number of red blood cells. Normally, the blood has between 4.0 and 6.0 million red blood cells per cubic millimeter. A lack of red blood cells can cause anemia. Anemia is a condition that may be associated with fatigue, dizziness, headaches, irritability, and an increase in heart rate or breathing. Anemia can sometimes be treated with drugs. In some cases, low blood cells counts may require transfusions.
Low Platelet Counts (Thrombocytopenia):
Low platelet counts can also occur in patients who undergo chemotherapy. The normal range for platelet counts is between 150,000 and 450,000 platelets per cubic millimeter. Patients who suffer from low platelet counts are said to have thrombocytopenia. Symptoms of low platelet counts include the tendency to bruise easily (or develop small and large bruises), to bleed longer than usual after cuts, or to have nosebleeds or bleeding gums. In severe cases, patients with low platelet counts may experience internal bleeding. Platelet transfusions may be necessary in some cases to elevate the number of platelets in the blood. Drugs such as operlvekin (brand name, Neumega) may also be prescribed in some cases.
Infertility and Premature Menopause:
Cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy should also be aware that chemotherapy drugs can cause infertility or premature menopause. The closer a woman is to menopause when she undergoes chemotherapy, the more likely she is to experience premature menopause. Women who are given chemotherapy often experience symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and irregular menstrual cycles. These symptoms are not uncommon and can often be managed adequately with many different regimens.
Chemotherapy drugs can also cause birth defects; therefore, it is essential that women who are able to conceive use birth control during chemotherapy. Couples may also wish to discuss banking sperm or eggs prior to chemotherapy if they wish to have children in the future.
Other Side Effects of Chemotherapy:
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* Mouth sores
* Taste changes
* Decreased appetite
* Diarrhea or constipation
* Tingling or burning sensations
* Numbness in hands and/or feet
* Skin irritations (redness, itching, peeling, or acne)
* Dark, brittle, or cracked fingernails or toenails
* Kidney/bladder infections
* Flu-like symptoms after chemotherapy sessions
* Fluid retention
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