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Chemotherapy Side Effects And What To Do About Them


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Chemotherapy is the use of chemicals to kill cancer cells or prevent them from dividing. There have been a lot of advances in chemotherapy so the side effects are no where near as bad as they used to be.

Many people have beliefs and strong negative feelings about chemotherapy. They think that chemotherapy always makes pople bald, very weak and nauseous all the time. In fact, while every chemotherapy does have side effects, there have been great strides made in the use of chemotherapy drugs and tailoring doses to the individual to reduce side effects. 

Even though chemotherapy is tailored to the individual, every person reacts differently to chemotherapy and different drugs cause different side effects. 

Many patients have few or no side effects. No one can predict who will and who will not have side effects, or the extent of the side effects. You may be one of the people who have no or few problems.

Side effects from chemotherapy depend on the type of drug, how much is used, how often it is given and for how long. Side effects can include short-term hair loss, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting, to name a few.

How you react to the chemotherapy has no relationship to whether or not it is helping you.

Although side effects can be unpleasant, they must be measured against the need to eliminate the cancer from your body or at least to limit it. 

There are medications and other steps to take to prevent or lessen side effects. (The steps are discussed in other sections of this document.) Two common methods of lessening the impact of a side effect are to:

  • Lower the dose of chemotherapy drugs and/or 
  • Prescribe longer breaks between doses.

Be sure to talk to your doctor and nurse about:

  • Which side effects are most likely with your particular chemotherapy 
  • How long the potential side effects might last 
  • How bad they might be
  • What you can do about them in addition to the tips in other sections of this document.
  • When you should seek medical care for each side effect. For more information see the Survivorship A to Z document: "When To Call Your Doctor While Receiving Chemotherapy."

Keep in mind that side effects from chemotherapy can continue for a while after treatment ends. At the same time, many people have no long-term problems from chemotherapy. 


  • To help reduce the effect of chemotherapy on your taste buds, avoid eating a few hours before and after chemotherapy. For additional tips about changed taste buds, click here.
  • Some people recommend avoiding favorite foods during during chemotherapy so you don’t develop a poor association with your favorite foods.
  • Some people have found fasting helpful to make chemotherapy easier. Caution: Fasting can be dangerous. Consult with your oncologist before considering this idea.

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