Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How to Learn About the Side Effects of Chemotherapy


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs that target cancer cells in the body. The drugs specifically attack cells that divide rapidly. However, certain normal cells in the body also divide rapidly, and chemotherapy attacks these cells as well, leading to side effects. For example, hair cells normally divide rapidly, and thus hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy.


Difficulty: Easy

Things You'll Need

  • Computer with Internet access



Step One

Know that most chemotherapy side effects are manageable. The majority of cancer patients receive some sort of chemotherapy, and most forms of chemotherapy are well documented and well understood. Ask your doctor for written information on the side effects that most commonly occur with the type of chemotherapy you will receive.

Step Two

Visit the Web site of the American Cancer Society (see Resources, below). This Web site contains a thorough discussion of almost all the major side effects of chemotherapy and explains why they occur.

Step Three

Be prepared for fatigue, which is the single most common side effect of chemotherapy. While undergoing chemotherapy, plan your life around your low and high energy periods. You can find helpful tips for coping with fatigue at the Breastcancer Web site (see Resources, below).

Step Four

Understand that most chemotherapy side effects occur because certain normal cells in the body grow rapidly in the same way that malignent cells do, and are thus also affected by chemotherapy drugs. These are cells in the bone marrow, cells in the mouth and digestive tract and hair cells. To some extent, side effects are a sign that the chemotherapy is working.

Step Five

Be aware that it is very important to have follow-up visits with either your family doctor or an oncologist after you finish chemotherapy. Follow-up visits are necessary to ensure that your cancer has not recurred.

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