Chemotherapy just may be more notorious for its side effects than for its
life-saving potential. Fortunately, after years of experience with chemo drugs,
doctors and patients have found ways to manage common side effects. A few are
Though chemotherapy drugs can cause dozens of unwelcome side effects, the
trinity that usually comes to mind is:
Routine cancer screening can save lives. It can also cause serious harm.
This is the "double-edged sword" of cancer screening, says Otis Webb Brawley, MD, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.
"Many of these cancers we treat and cure never needed to be treated and cured," Brawley says. "They are never going to kill that patient."
At the heart of the problem is our justifiable fear of cancer. The message has been drummed into us: Find cancers early while they're still curable and...
Fatigue: One survey found that 76% of people treated for various forms of
cancer frequently felt fatigued -- for some the kind of persistent exhaustion
and weakness that makes it hard to do everyday activities.
Making matters worse, chemotherapy can decrease red blood cell counts,
which in turn causes fatigue.
While drugs can stimulate the production of red blood cells, the problem may
be more complex, says James Rigas, MD, director of the Comprehensive Thoracic
Oncology Program at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, N.H.
For some patients, "it's not just anemia. Correcting their anemia is not
making their fatigue go away," he tells WebMD.
No matter what the cause, you don't have to let fatigue get the best of you.
To cope, try attending to the highest priorities in your life first. Don't
waste energy on unimportant things -- and be sure to accept help from family,
friends, and neighbors.
And get plenty of rest during your treatment, though being too inactive can
make things worse, says the American Cancer Society. An exercise program can
help some, but check with your doctor to see if that's right for you.
No Nausea During Chemotherapy? It's Possible
Nausea is second among the dreaded trinity of chemotherapy side effects,
with the most commonly used chemotherapy drugs causing nausea and vomiting 60%
to 90% of the time.
The arsenal for tackling chemo-induced nausea can include:
Anti-nausea drugs. In recent years the choice of such medications
has grown, and whether taken before chemotherapy by IV or as a pill, they can
control nausea and vomiting very well. Most people experience relief for the
first 24 hours after chemotherapy and about 45% for the first five to seven
days of treatment.
Ginger. The spicy bite of ginger may also help manage nausea and
vomiting, reports the National Cancer Institute. To test this theory,
researchers at the University of Michigan are currently seeking people
undergoing chemotherapy to take part in a ginger clinical trial.
Guided imagery. This meditative practice involves imagining a
pleasant, relaxing place in your imagination -- your favorite vacation spot for
example. By focusing on what you usually feel, see, hear, and taste in this
place, you can block negative physical sensations.
Eat through it. Nausea not only makes you feel bad, but it can also
ruin your appetite. Yet good nutrition is crucial for people fighting cancer.
When you can't manage big meals, nibble throughout the day on healthy snacks,
or sip on juice and soup. On days when you have a good appetite, by all means,
Speaking of eating: Mouth sores can also be a problem for some people going
through chemo and the sores may be sensitive to spices, salt, citrus, and
crunchy foods -- jalapeno-lime flavored tortilla chips might not be the best
snack choice right now!