How Chemotherapy Affects Your Body After Treatment

Some side effects of chemotherapy only happen while you're having treatment and disappear quickly after it's over. But others can linger for months or years, or may never completely go away.

Watch out for signs of chemo's long-term changes, and let your doctor know how you feel. He can suggest ways to manage your symptoms.

Brain

If you feel a little foggy when your treatment is done, you might have a touch of chemo brain.  You may notice that you find it hard time to concentrate or remember names and dates. You may also forget things easily or have trouble doing more than one thing at a time.

Doctors aren't sure of the exact cause of chemo brain. It seems more likely to happen if you had higher doses of chemotherapy.

Heart

Certain chemo drugs can damage cells in your heart. Chemotherapy may also increase your odds of having heart problems, such as:

  • Weakening of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Problems with your heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • Heart attack

If your doctor plans to give you a medication that could affect your heart, he may ask you to get tests that monitor how well your ticker works.

Hair

If you lost some or all of your hair after chemo, it will typically start to grow back in a month or two. But it's possible that at first it may not look like it used to. Its texture, shape, and color may be different.

Over time, as the effects of the chemo on your hair follicles wear off, your hair will probably go back to the way it was before treatment. In rare cases, such as after years of strong chemotherapy, your hair follicles could shut down. This can prevent new hair from growing, and you may become permanently bald.

Weight

Some types of chemo can make you put on extra pounds. You may find that the weight stays on even when your treatment ends.

For instance, some drugs that treat breast cancer can cause you to lose muscle and gain fat, which makes it much more difficult to get the weight off. Work with a dietitian or nutritionist and add strength training exercises to your workout routine to help you shed some pounds.

Continued

Energy

You probably remember the fatigue that hit you while you were getting chemo. But some people still feel extremely tired after treatment ends.

You may find that even when you get enough rest, you still feel sluggish. Talk to your doctor for suggestions on ways to raise your energy level.

Fertility

Chemotherapy can affect your ability to have children, whether you're a man or woman.

For guys, the reason has to do with the way chemo drugs target fast-growing cancer cells. Since healthy sperm cells divide quickly, chemo can also damage them. If chemo kills the immature stem cells in your testicles that become new sperm, you may become infertile, which means you can't have children.

If you're a woman, chemotherapy can damage your eggs and harm your ovaries. You may stop having regular menstrual cycles after treatment. Many women who have chemo go through menopause at an earlier age than usual.  

For both men and women, chemotherapy's effect on fertility depends on a number of things, including the type of drugs you used and the dose. The higher the dose of chemo, the more likely it is to have an impact. 

If you're having long-term effects from chemo, talk to your doctor to get tips on how to manage them. And reach out to your friends and family to get the support you need.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on February 14, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "Chemotherapy Side Effects," "How Cancer Treatments Can Affect Fertility in Men," "How Cancer Treatments Can Affect Fertility in Women," "Chemo Brain."

Mayo Clinic: "What late effects might people who were treated for childhood cancers experience?" "Can chemotherapy side effects increase the risk of heart disease?"

Susan G. Komen: "Long-Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy."

Breastcancer.org: "When Will Your Hair Grow Back?"

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: "Your Body after Treatment."

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