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Chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer: Easing the Stress & Managing Side Effects

Chemotherapy Side Effects: How Your Doctor Can Help continued...

Doctors can prevent side effects using other methods, too. For example:

  • Chemotherapy can attack your white blood cells, leaving you more vulnerable to infection. Your doctor will check your white blood cell counts regularly and may give you growth factors to stimulate your bone marrow to produce more blood cells.
  • Chemotherapy also attacks the red blood cells that carry oxygen to your body, which can lead to anemia. Your doctor might prescribe a drug to treat chemotherapy-induced anemia.
  • Abdominal pain is a side effect of intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy, which is delivered directly into the abdominal cavity (unlike IV chemotherapy, which is delivered into a vein). Your doctor will give you pain medications to relieve this symptom.
  • An infection in the catheter or port is another possible side effect of IP chemotherapy. Your doctor should monitor you carefully for an infection. If you get an infection, you'll be treated with antibiotics.

Your chemotherapy regimen isn't set in stone. If you find that your treatment is making you sick, your doctor can always make changes. "I think every cycle is its own kind of story and the story hasn't been written," explains Ursula A. Matulonis, MD, director and program leader of Medical Gynecologic Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "When somebody comes back in to see me after cycle one and she's having side effects, we make adjustments."

"We can either change the drug or we can decrease the dose of the drug," says Schmeler. That might mean switching you from IP to intravenous (IV) chemotherapy if you can't tolerate the more significant side effects of IP chemotherapy.

Whatever changes your doctor makes to your treatment regimen, she needs to balance concerns over your side effects with the need to combat your cancer. "It's a fine line between controlling symptoms and giving them the most aggressive chemotherapy we can," Schmeler says.

Chemotherapy Side Effects: What You Can Do

Your doctor will do everything possible to prevent or lessen your side effects. You can also do your part at home by adjusting your schedule and lifestyle to make things easier on yourself while you're undergoing treatment.

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