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Department of Cancer Care/Oncology

What Are The Side Effects Of Chemotherapy

Posted On: Dec 24, 2019

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Most patients diagnosed with cancer are more distressed and worried about the treatment they are going to receive rather than the condition itself.

Chemotherapy, also known as “chemo”, is one of the most widely used traditional cancer treatments. The popularity of this treatment is because it is a noninvasive medical management procedure for cancer patients.

This cancer treatment involves the administration of drugs through various routes, but the most commonly used method is the IV (Intravenous) route.  Some drugs are also given orally. In specific conditions, drugs are given directly into the pleural cavity (chest), abdominal cavity, or bladder (urine reservoir in our body).

How does Chemotherapy Cause Side Effects?

Chemotherapy uses drugs that attack the tumour or cancer cells by disrupting their cell cycle, limiting their growth. Problems arise when these drugs start exerting their effect on the multiplying cells in the tissues, such as blood cells, hair cells, nails, and mucosa of the stomach and intestine.

Some of the common side effects include:

1. Fatigue

Chemotherapy is known to be energy-sapping. This exhaustion may interfere with normal activities so patients receiving this treatment may find it difficult to work and perform other tasks. The best way to cope up with this fatigue is to get adequate rest. Apart from taking rest, a healthy diet and moderate exercise can also help to combat fatigue.

2. Hair loss

Hair loss is a common and embarrassing side effect of chemotherapy. This is because the drugs destroy the rapidly dividing hair roots. However the loss is usually temporary, and you can expect your hair to grow back after 3 to 10 months from the last treatment. But unfortunately for some patients, this loss can be permanent. This effect can be managed temporarily by cutting your hair short or covering your head with scarves or hats to improve your physical appearance.

3. Loss of appetite

You may not get hungry or you will end up feeling sated after consuming a small amount of food. This causes weight loss leading to loss of muscle mass. But, to deal with the chemotherapy, you need to have adequate nutrition. So, maintain a diet plan by talking to your dietitian or a nutritionist. Eat, small frequent meals, with calorie-dense foods.

4. Nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are the most common side effects that accompany chemotherapy. This side effect is usually addressed with anti-emetic medications. This can also be self-managed by avoiding foods that are irritating or nauseating, such as greasy or spicy products.

5. Long-term and late side effects

Long-term side effects begin during chemo, but the side effects don’t become apparent until the treatment is completed. The influence of the drugs will take some time to show since the damaged tissue cells continue to grow normally.

Some of the common long-term side effects of chemo include:

  • Fatigue
  • Heart or kidney problems
  • Infertility
  • Peripheral neuropathy (loss of sensation in hands and feet)
  • Cognitive difficulties and learning disabilities.


Side effects associated with chemotherapy usually differ from patient to patient. This difference is based on your unique physiology and the specific chemo medications you receive. Sometimes most of the side effects, including long-term, turn out to be temporary. Successful management of the side effects is proven to be beneficial for both the physical and mental well-being of the patient.

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