Many people don’t realize that there are different chemotherapy drugs.
Each drug carries its own set of possible side effects. Ask your doctor about common side effects for the chemotherapy medications you are prescribed. For breast cancer, there are some general side effects that many women experience.
- Prickly or painful scalp as you lose your hair- This typically improves after you lose all of your hair
- Chemo brain- Difficulty concentrating and memory problems
- Loss of appetite or taste changes- Most people experience changes in their appetite. You may not feel hungry or if you do, only certain foods may sound good. Eat what you can tolerate. Changes in taste vary (food tastes like metal, has no taste, or doesn’t taste or smell like it used to).
- Mouth and throat changes- Dry mouth, mouth sores, gum sensitivity
- Hot flashes
- Bone pain and muscle aches
- Dry skin and lips, vaginal dryness
- Nausea and vomiting- Try bland, easy to digest foods, such as crackers, bread and applesauce. Some people also find it helpful to eat 5 or 6 small meals instead of 3 larger meals.
- Hair loss- Usually two to three weeks after your first chemotherapy treatment, hair loss begins either little by little or in clumps. Hair loss affects hair all over your body including hair on your head, pubic hair, nose hair, leg and arm hair as well as facial hair. Eyelashes and eyebrows are typically the last to fall out. Some people’s hair starts coming back in before chemotherapy ends.
- Dripping nose after loss of nostril hair, nasal congestion, increased sneezing
- Watery eyes after loss of eyelashes
- Fatigue- Typically the day of and several days after treatment
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Heart pounding or beating fast
- Shortness of breath, weak, dizzy or lightheaded
- Bruise easily
- Infection- A weakened immune system can make you more susceptible to infection. A simple bug bite or gardening without gloves can cause an infection for chemotherapy patients. Avoid people that are sick. Wash hands regularly or use hand sanitizer.
- Smell aversions
- Tingling, burning, weakness or numbness in hands and feet
- Nail changes- Sometimes fingernails and toenails turn dark or yellow, or become brittle and crack. Sometimes nails loosen and fall off.
- Fluid retention
- Lack of balance
- Shaking or trembling
- Stomach pain
- Infertility- Chemotherapy can cause damage to the ovaries. A drop in hormones can lead to early menopause. Premenopausal women often stop having periods during chemotherapy. Menstruation may or may not return after completing chemotherapy.
After completing chemotherapy, your body has gone through a lot. Be patient; it can take months before you start feeling yourself again. The good news is that most people make it through chemotherapy and are able to return to a normal lifestyle.