The side effects of cancer treatment can be different for each person, and for different medicines and various types of treatment. Side effects are problems that occur when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs.
Cancer treatments include chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy, stem cell transplant, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, or hormone therapy etc.
Common effects of cancer treatment
1. Hair loss (alopecia)
This is probably one of the most talked about side effects of cancer treatment. Some types of chemotherapy cause the hair on your head and other parts of your body to fall out. Radiation therapy can also cause hair loss on the part of the body that is being treated.
Most cancer pain is caused by the tumour pressing on bones, nerves or other organs in the body. However, treatments such as chemotherapy can cause numbness and tingling in your hands and feet or a burning sensation at the spot where you have the drug injection.
If you have to undergo surgery to remove a tumour, pain after surgery is common, normal and to be expected. You may have long term nerve pain after surgery. This is because nerves are cut during surgery and they take a long time to heal because they grow very slowly.
Cancer pain can either be acute (short term) or chronic (persistent pain).
3. Nausea and vomiting
Chemotherapy can harm your digestive tract which could also lead to nausea. Certain chemotherapy drugs cause nausea and vomiting, especially if given in high doses. Chemotherapy affects parts of the stomach and brain that detect toxic (poisonous) substances. This causes nausea and vomiting as the body tries to rid itself of the toxins.
Lymph nodes are the tiny, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection in your body. Lymphedema is when lymph fluid builds up and causes swelling and pain. T
his can happen when part of the lymph system is damaged or blocked, such as during surgery to remove lymph nodes, or radiation therapy.
Lymphedema usually affects an arm or leg, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the head and neck.
Fatigue describes feeling tired or exhausted almost all the time. Your level of fatigue often depends on your treatment plan. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, bone marrow transplant and surgery may result fatigue.
Some types of cancer treatments may affect the endocrine system. The endocrine system includes the glands and other organs that make hormones and produce eggs or sperm.
Treatments that affect reproductive organs or the endocrine system increase risk of infertility.
7. Long term effects
Many people who have undergone treatment for cancer have a risk of developing long-term side effects.
If part of your cancer treatment required removal of all or part of your body like a limb, you may experience both physical and emotional effects of losing it.
In addition to being physically impaired, you may experience a condition called phantom limb pain. This is feeling pain in the limb that was removed even though it is no longer there.
Also, infertility from cancer treatment may be permanent.
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