8 Symptoms Chemo Patients Go Through That Few Talk About
Chemotherapy is the most common treatment for cancer patients because it is extremely effective in killing cancer cells. When chemo is mentioned, most people associate it with hair loss. This isn’t surprising given that as many as 65% of chemo patients suffer from this side effect.
While losing one’s mane can be jolting, there are other symptoms that not many know about. If you or someone you love is going through chemo, this article will help you know what to expect.
But first, here’s some background about chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy: How It Works
Cancer develops when the body’s cells divide at an irregularly high rate and form a lump or tumor.
There are four stages to the disease, which are used to determine the severity or intensity of cancer. Once diagnosed, there are different treatment options such as radiation therapy, surgery, hormone therapy, bone marrow transplant, and chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is the most common treatment option and is performed intravenously. It involves strong drugs that destroy cancerous cells and may be paired with other treatment options depending on the type of therapy required:
- Adjuvant therapy - chemotherapy is used to destroy cancer cells after radiation therapy or surgery
- Curative therapy - chemotherapy is the only treatment used to cure cancer
- Neoadjuvant therapy - chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumor before radiation therapy or surgery is performed
- Palliative therapy - chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumor and mitigate the symptoms, but it cannot cure cancer as it is in an advanced stage
Chemotherapy can be administered as an injection, infusion, oral pill, or topical cream rubbed onto the skin.
Chemotherapy has side effects or symptoms because it targets all fast-growing cells, including healthy cells. This means that other cells in the skin, hair follicles, and digestive tract can also be damaged as they grow and multiply quickly. While hair loss is the most well-known side effect, there are others that patients might experience.
8 Lesser Known Chemotherapy Side Effects
Most chemotherapy symptoms and side effects go away once treatment stops, however, others may not show up until much later. These are referred to as “late effects.”
Some of the lesser known chemotherapy side effects that individuals might experience include:
1. Weakened Circulatory and Immune Systems
Chemotherapy can reduce healthy red blood cells which may result in anemia. It can also lower your white blood cell count, otherwise known as neutropenia. Additionally, it may also lead to a low platelet count or thrombocytopenia.
In addition to these three side effects, chemotherapy can affect the heart. This can lead to heart muscle disease or cardiomyopathy. In some cases, patients may notice an irregular heartbeat which could affect the heart’s ability to effectively pump blood through the body.
Symptoms of these conditions include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Rapid heart rate
- Pale skin
2. Problems With Nervous and Muscular Systems
Emotions, thought patterns, and coordination are controlled by the central nervous system. This is often affected by chemotherapy, which may make it difficult to think or concentrate due to what is known as “chemo brain.”
Chemotherapy can damage the nervous system, causing issues such as:
- Lack of balance
- Tingling or numbness in the limbs
- Erectile dysfunction
- Slowed reflexes
- Brain fog
- Comprehension problems
- An inability to think clearly or concentrate
These symptoms may vary depending on which nerves are damaged and how severely.
3. Digestive System Issues
Chemotherapy drugs can cause discomfort or pain in the mouth or throat. It may also impact the mucosa and gastrointestinal tract. This can cause symptoms such as:
- Mouth sores
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- A chemical or metallic taste
- Gas, bloating, or pressure around the abdomen
4. Damage to the Integumentary System
Chemotherapy affects the integumentary system, which includes the skin, hair, and nails. Among them, hair loss is the most evident of the lot which is why it’s such a well-known side effect. However, there are other symptoms of integumentary system damage:
- Skin dryness
- Itchy skin
- Hair loss
- Brittle or yellowed nails
- Peeling skin
- Skin sensitivity
- Dry cuticles
Most of these symptoms can be addressed with topical treatments.
5. Sexual and Reproductive Issues
Chemotherapy causes hormonal changes in men and women. It can lead to:
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Irregular periods
- Early onset of menopause
- Lower sperm count
- Birth defects
- Changes in sex life or libido
6. Excretory System Changes
The kidneys excrete the chemotherapy drugs that pass through the body which can cause irritation or damage to the kidneys and bladder.
This can cause:
- Decreased urination
- High blood pressure
- Swollen hands and feet
- Red or orange urination
- Burning during urination
Drinking plenty of fluids is often recommended to ensure that the system continues to function properly.
7. Skeletal Deterioration
Loss of bone mass occurs naturally with age but chemo drugs often expedite the process. This often leads to weakened bones and osteoporosis which can cause the spine, hips, and wrists to easily get fractured.
A healthy diet, vitamin D supplements, and regular exercise can reduce the risk of fractures and help strengthen bones.
8. Adverse Impact on Mental Health
It’s often an unspoken understanding that cancer and chemo combined with the stress and fear that accompanies it can be overwhelming and lead to mental health problems. However, the severity of this is often undermined.
Chemo can cause people to feel intense emotions such as:
These can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The trauma of chemotherapy and cancer can also cause additional problems later in life.
Chemotherapy’s Rare Side Effects
Does chemo have rare side effects?
Unfortunately, yes. While the symptoms mentioned above are fairly common, chemotherapy also has some rare side effects such as:
- Watery eyes
- Neutropenic enterocolitis
- Red blood cell damage
- Acne-like skin conditions
AntiNa Soft Chews: Help for Nausea and Fatigue
Chemotherapy is highly effective but it’s also an extremely grueling treatment that can have a deeper impact on a person than what is visible.
Some symptoms need to be accepted and coped with as an inescapable side effect but others can be reduced or dealt with as long as you have the right tools.
Fatigue and nausea are two of the biggest disadvantages when undergoing chemotherapy. However, they can be reduced and managed with AntiNa soft chews.
AntiNa chews are made with all-natural ingredients and are completely safe for patients undergoing chemotherapy. They help relieve nausea and improve energy levels, which is a big help for anyone battling chemo side effects.