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Side Effects Of Chemotherapy : Part 2

The chemotherapy used to treat cancer is generally well tolerated by most people. Most side effects are mild and can be treated with medication.

Mouth Sores: Chemotherapy can cause painful sores and ulcers on the lips, mouth, gums, and throat. These sores can become infected. They can also make eating and drinking difficult, which can lead to dehydration. Fortunately, mouth sores disappear once the treatments have concluded. Ask your doctor about medication to treat these sores. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid spicy, sauce-based foods. Eat soft foods such as baby food, milk shakes, or ice cream until your condition improves. Here are additional suggestions for coping with mouth sores:

  1. See your dentist if possible before chemotherapy to have your teeth cleaned and any cavities filled.
  2. Brush and floss your teeth properly, using a soft toothbrush; hard bristles can damage tissues.
  3. Rinse your toothbrush well after use and store it in a dry place.
  4. Avoid commercial mouthwashes that contain a lot of salt or alcohol. Ask your doctor or nurse about a mouthwash that you might use. Your dentist may recommend a fluoride rinse or special gel for oral care.

Low Blood Counts: Chemotherapy can damage actively dividing cells in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is an important source of red blood cells, infection-fighting white blood cells, and cells that help the blood to clot. By temporarily damaging bone marrow cells, chemotherapy can cause anemia, a low red blood cell count. Chemotherapy can also reduce the number of platelets, cells that help clot the blood. If your platelet counts get too low, you can bleed or bruise very easily. If you notice unexpected bruises on your body, contact your doctor immediately.

Fortunately, the chemotherapeutic drugs used to treat cancer have mild effects on bone marrow and do not present a major problem. Once chemotherapy has stopped, the low blood counts are completely treatable and reversible. Your doctor should monitor your blood counts with periodic blood work.

Infections: Chemotherapy can also lower your white blood cell count. This may lead to a weakening of the immune system, which makes an individual susceptible to infections. If you're receiving chemotherapy, you are more prone to get infections throughout the body, including pneumonia, blood infections, urine infections, and skin infections. Be alert for the signs of infection - fever over 100 degrees, shaking chills, sweats, coughing up dark or bloody sputum, pain or burning with urination, and pain or redness around cuts. If you feel an infection coming on, notify your doctor immediately. Infections can be effectively treated with antibiotics. To reduce your risk of infection:

  1. Stay away from people who have diseases that you can catch, such as a cold, the flu, the measles, or chicken pox.
  2. Wash your hands often during the day, especially after using the bathroom.
  3. Clean your rectal area gently but thoroughly after each bowel movement. Notify your doctor or nurse if this area becomes irritated or if you have hemorrhoids.
  4. Stay away from children who have recently received vaccinations.
  5. Clean cuts and scrapes right away.
  6. Wear gloves when gardening or cleaning up after pets or small children.
  7. Use a soft toothbrush that won't hurt your gums.
  8. Be careful not to cut or nick yourself.

Rashes: Chemotherapy used to treat cancer can result in rashes on your hands or feet. These rashes can itch and be painful. However, they are temporary. Ask your doctor about medication to relieve the itching. Try to avoid scratching, which can lead to infections requiring antibiotics.

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