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Side Effects Of Chemotherapy : Part 1

Despite the benefits of chemotherapy for treating cancer, there are side effects. The type of chemotherapy you receive, the dosage, and the duration of your treatment all impact your side effects. Fortunately, most are temporary and go away once the treatment ends.

Diarrhea: This is one of the more common side effects of chemotherapy used to treat cancer. It is caused by chemotherapy acting on the fast-dividing, normal cells lining the inside of the stomach and intestines. Abdominal cramping can also accompany diarrhea. Both may last several hours to several days and can lead to dehydration.

Drink plenty of fluids. Since diarrhea can cause the body to lose a large amount of water in a short period of time, you can also lose important minerals and electrolytes. Ask your doctor about replacing these. If you're having diarrhea, avoid coffee, tea, alcohol, and sweets. Stay away from high-fiber, greasy, and spicy foods. Eat small amounts of solid food frequently throughout the day. If the diarrhea persists for more than twenty-four hours, call your doctor. Do not take any over-the-counter medicine for diarrhea without consulting your doctor.

Nausea & Vomiting

Both nausea and vomiting are side effects of chemotherapy used to treat cancer. The effects of chemotherapy on the cells lining your stomach and certain cells in the brain that control nausea cause these side effects. It is difficult to predict how each person will react to chemotherapy and how long the nausea and vomiting will last.

If you feel nauseous at home, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or other liquids. Eat bland food in small amounts and stay away from strong, spicy foods. Ask your doctor about medication that can counteract nausea. If the medication doesn't correct your nausea and vomiting within twenty-four hours, notify your doctor. If the nausea and vomiting persist, you may need to be admitted to the hospital for intravenous fluids and medication. Below are some tips for dealing with nausea or vomiting:

  1. Eat several small meals during the day to avoid feeling too full.
  2. Eat and drink slowly. Chew foods well.
  3. Try eating dry foods like toast or crackers.
  4. Wear loose-fitting clothes.
  5. Avoid odors that bother you. If the smell of food makes the nausea worse, try staying out of the kitchen while food is being cooked.
  6. Breathe deeply and slowly when you feel nauseous.
  7. Suck on ice cubes, mints, or tart candies (unless you have mouth sores).

Hair Loss: Hair loss is another common side effect of chemotherapy. Hair loss is caused by damage to the fast-dividing hair follicles. Although hair loss can occur anywhere on the body, it is mainly confined to the head. Once the treatments are complete, the hair grows back. However, the hair may grow back in a different color or somewhat different texture. During chemotherapy, some people wear hats, scarves, or wigs to cover their heads and stay warm. If you're experiencing hair loss, protect exposed hairless areas from sun exposure with sunblock and protective clothing.

To cope with hair loss:

  1. Use mild shampoos.
  2. Use a soft hair brush.
  3. Use low heat on your hair dryer.
  4. Don't use brush rollers to set your hair.
  5. Don't dye your hair or get a permanent.
  6. Have your hair cut short. A shorter style will make hair look thicker and fuller.
  7. Protect your scalp from the sun with a hat, scarf, or sunscreen.

Fatigue: Fatigue is a very common side effect of chemotherapy and can have a number of causes. It can be caused by the chemotherapy's effect on the bone marrow and resulting reduction in red blood cells; this reduction may cause anemia and, in turn, fatigue. Fatigue can also result from dehydration from persistent diarrhea.

Whatever the cause, most patients on chemotherapy experience some degree of fatigue. For some, fatigue occurs around the time of treatments. Others feel fatigued during the entire course of therapy. The fatigue may last even after chemotherapy has ended, and it may take weeks for your body to recover its normal energy. For normally active patients, the fatigue can be a source of frustration, even depression. Try to stay positive and remember that the fatigue is temporary. Here are a few tips for coping with fatigue:

  1. Limit your activities. Do only those things that are most important to you.
  2. Take several short naps or breaks during the day.
  3. Some people find that taking short walks or exercising lightly helps to decrease fatigue.
  4. Maintain good nutrition. Try to eat a well-balanced diet. Ask for help when you need it.

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