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image of chemotherapy drugChemotherapy is given to kill cancer cells, but it can also damage normal cells, which may cause side effects. Most of the time, these side effects go away after the chemotherapy treatment.

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Here is a list of Chemotherapy side effects:

Appetite changes
Hair loss
Mouth and throat changes
Nausea and vomiting
Nervous system changes
Sexual changes
Skin and nail changes
Urinary, kidney, and bladder changes
Flu-like symptoms
Fluid retention
Eye changes


Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. Anemia is when you have too few red blood cells to carry the oxygen your body needs. Your heart works harder when your body does not get enough oxygen. This can make it feel like your heart is pounding or beating very fast. Anemia can also make you feel short of breath, weak, dizzy, faint, or very tired.

Some types of chemotherapy cause anemia because they make it harder for bone marrow to produce new red blood cells.

Appetite changes

You may lose your appetite because of nausea, mouth and throat problems that make it painful to eat, or drugs that cause you to lose your taste for food. They can also come from feeling depressed or tired. Appetite loss may last for a day, a few weeks, or even months.

It is important to eat well, even when you have no appetite. This means eating and drinking foods that have plenty of protein, vitamins, and calories. Eating well helps your body fight infection and repair tissues that are damaged by chemotherapy. Not eating well can lead to weight loss, weakness, and fatigue.


Platelets are cells that make your blood clot when you bleed. Chemotherapy can lower the number of platelets because it affects your bone marrow’s ability to make them. A low platelet count is called thrombocytopenia. This condition may cause bruises (even when you have not been hit or have not bumped into anything), bleeding from your nose or in your mouth, or a rash of tiny, red dots.


Constipation is when bowel movements become less frequent and stools are hard, dry, and difficult to pass. You may have painful bowel movements and feel bloated or nauseous. You may belch, pass a lot of gas, and have stomach cramps or pressure in the rectum.

Drugs such as chemotherapy and pain medicine can cause constipation. It can also happen when people are not active and spend a lot of time sitting or lying down. Constipation can also be due to eating foods that are low in fiber or not drinking enough fluids.


Diarrhea is frequent bowel movements that may be soft, loose, or watery. Chemotherapy can cause diarrhea because it harms healthy cells that line your large and small bowel. It may also speed up your bowels. Diarrhea can also be caused by infections or drugs used to treat constipation.


Fatigue from chemotherapy can range from a mild to extreme feeling of being tired. Many people describe fatigue as feeling weak, weary, worn out, heavy, or slow. Resting does not always help.

Many people say they feel fatigue during chemotherapy and even for weeks or months after treatment is over. Fatigue can be caused by the type of chemotherapy, the effort of making frequent visits to the doctor, or feelings such as stress, anxiety, and depression. If you receive radiation therapy along with chemotherapy, your fatigue may be more severe.

Fatigue can happen all at once or little by little. People feel fatigue in different ways. You may feel more or less fatigue than someone else who gets the same type of chemotherapy.

Hair Loss

Hair loss (also called alopecia) is when some or all of your hair falls out. This can happen anywhere on your body: your head, face, arms, legs, underarms, or the pubic area between your legs. Many people are upset by the loss of their hair and find it the most difficult part of chemotherapy.

Some types of chemotherapy damage the cells that cause hair growth. Hair loss often starts 2 to 3 weeks after chemotherapy begins. Your scalp may hurt at first. Then you may lose your hair, either a little at a time or in clumps. It takes about 1 week for all your hair to fall out. Almost always, your hair will grow back 2 to 3 months after chemotherapy is over. You may notice that your hair starts growing back even while you are getting chemotherapy.

Your hair will be very fine when it starts growing back. Also, your new hair may not look or feel the same as it did before. For instance, your hair may be thin instead of thick, curly instead of straight, and darker or lighter in color.
Hair often grows back 2 to 3 months after chemotherapy is over.


Some types of chemotherapy make it harder for your bone marrow to produce new white blood cells. White blood cells help your body fight infection. Therefore, it is important to avoid infections, since chemotherapy decreases the number of your white blood cells.

There are many types of white blood cells. One type is called neutrophil. When your neutrophil count is low, it is called neutropenia. Your doctor or nurse may do blood tests to find out whether you have neutropenia.

It is important to watch for signs of infection when you have neutropenia. Check for fever at least once a day, or as often as your doctor or nurse tells you to. You may find it best to use a digital thermometer. Call your doctor or nurse if your temperature is 100.5°F or higher.


Some types of chemotherapy can cause infertility. For a woman, this means that you may not be able to get pregnant. For a man, this means you may not be able to get a woman pregnant.

In women, chemotherapy may damage the ovaries. This damage can lower the number of healthy eggs in the ovaries. It can also lower the hormones produced by them. The drop in hormones can lead to early menopause. Early menopause and fewer healthy eggs can cause infertility.

In men, chemotherapy may damage sperm cells, which grow and divide quickly. Infertility may occur because chemotherapy can lower the number of sperm, make sperm less able to move, or cause other types of damage.

Whether or not you become infertile depends on the type of chemotherapy you get, your age, and whether you have other health problems. Infertility can last the rest of your life.

Mouth and Throat Changes

Some types of chemotherapy harm fast-growing cells, such as those that line your mouth, throat, and lips. This can affect your teeth, gums, the lining of your mouth, and the glands that make saliva. Most mouth problems go away a few days after chemotherapy is over.

Nausea and Vomiting

Some types of chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting, or both. Nausea is when you feel sick to your stomach, like you are going to throw up. Vomiting is when you throw up. You may also have dry heaves, which is when your body tries to vomit even though your stomach is empty.

Nausea and vomiting can occur while you are getting chemotherapy, right after, or many hours or days later. You will most likely feel better on the days you do not get chemotherapy.

New drugs can help prevent nausea and vomiting. These are called antiemetic or antinausea drugs. You may need to take these drugs 1 hour before each chemotherapy treatment and for a few days after. How long you take them after chemotherapy will depend on the type of chemotherapy you are getting and how you react to it. If one antinausea drug does not work well for you, your doctor can prescribe a different one. You may need to take more than one type of drug to help with nausea. Acupuncture may also help. Talk with your doctor or nurse about treatments to control nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.

Nervous System Changes

Chemotherapy can cause damage to your nervous system. Many nervous system problems get better within a year of when you finish chemotherapy, but some may last the rest of your life.
Let your doctor or nurse know right away if you notice any nervous system changes. It is important to treat these problems as soon as possible


Some types of chemotherapy cause painful side effects. These include burning, numbness, and tingling or shooting pains in your hands and feet. Mouth sores, headaches, muscle pains, and stomach pains can also occur.
Pain can be caused by the cancer itself or by chemotherapy. Doctors and nurses have ways to decrease or relieve your pain.

Be sure to tell your doctor or nurse if you have pain.

Sexual Changes

Some types of chemotherapy can cause sexual changes. These changes are different for women and men.

In women, chemotherapy may damage the ovaries, which can cause changes in hormone levels. Hormone changes can lead to problems like vaginal dryness and early menopause.

In men, chemotherapy can cause changes in hormone levels, decreased blood supply to the penis, or damage to the nerves that control the penis, all of which can lead to impotence.

Whether or not you have sexual changes during chemotherapy depends on if you have had these problems before, the type of chemotherapy you are getting, your age, and whether you have any other illnesses. Some problems, such as loss of interest in sex, are likely to improve once chemotherapy is over.

Skin and Nail Changes

Some types of chemotherapy can damage the fast-growing cells in your skin and nails. While these changes may be painful and annoying, most are minor and do not require treatment. Many of them will get better once you have finished chemotherapy. However, major skin changes need to be treated right away because they can cause life-long damage. Talk to your doctor about this to get more information.

Urinary, Kidney, and Bladder Changes

Some types of chemotherapy damage cells in the kidneys and bladder. Usually these kidney and bladder problems will go away after you finish chemotherapy. Other problems can last for the rest of your life.

Drink plenty of fluids if you are getting chemotherapy that can damage the bladder and kidneys.

Other Side Effects:

Flu-like symptoms

Some types of chemotherapy can make you feel like you have the flu. This is more likely to happen if you get chemotherapy along with biological therapy.

These symptoms may last from 1 to 3 days. An infection or the cancer itself can also cause them. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have any of these symptoms.

Fluid retention

Fluid retention is a buildup of fluid caused by chemotherapy, hormone changes caused by treatment, or your cancer. It can cause your face, hands, feet, or stomach to feel swollen and puffy. Sometimes fluid builds up around your lungs and heart, causing coughing, shortness of breath, or an irregular heart beat. Fluid can also build up in the lower part of your belly, which can cause bloating.

Eye changes

  • Trouble wearing contact lenses.
  • Blurry vision. Some types of chemotherapy can clog your tear ducts, which can cause blurry vision.
  • Watery eyes. Sometimes, chemotherapy can seep out in your tears, which can cause your eyes to water more than usual.

If your vision gets blurry or your eyes water more than usual, tell your doctor or nurse.

Other Helpful Links:

Source: National Cancer Institute

For more information, please visit the National Cancer Institute at

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