Chemotherapy is a powerful mesothelioma treatment. Used alone or alongside other treatments, it can extend life expectancy and reduce painful symptoms.

Chemotherapy also causes a variety of side effects—many of which can be managed using different techniques.

Why Does Chemotherapy Have Side Effects?

A normal, healthy cell knows when to stop multiplying. But cancer cells continue multiplying at an unregulated rate and eventually cluster to make a tumor. Chemotherapy uses potent drugs to kill cancer cells and stop them from growing and dividing.

Unfortunately, chemotherapy drugs can’t tell the difference between a healthy cell and a cancerous one.

Killing the healthy cells is what causes side effects like nausea, fatigue and hair loss. Your mesothelioma specialist will make your chemotherapy treatment strong enough to kill cancer cells while trying to minimize the side effects.

How Long Do Side Effects Last?

The duration of side effects for chemotherapy treatment differs from patient to patient. The type of chemotherapy drugs, the length of treatment, the mesothelioma stage and your overall health all contribute to the duration of side effects.

Healthy cells start to repair themselves when treatment ends, and side effects begin to dissipate. Some side effects stop shortly after treatment. Some might take a month or longer to disappear, and others may never go away. Each patient has a different experience.

It is important to discuss the possible side effects of chemotherapy with your specialist before starting treatment. Taking proactive measures can help to alleviate painful and troublesome effects. Always report new side effects that arise during treatment. Your specialist may be able to adjust the treatment to decrease the effects.

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Managing Common Chemotherapy Side Effects

Chemotherapy side effects range from mild to severe. There are many ways you can manage chemotherapy side effects to ease symptoms during and after treatment.

Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Patients lack energy and feel tired after little or no exertion. Some patients still feel exhausted even after a good night’s sleep. Fatigue can be caused by the chemotherapy drugs themselves, pain medications or other treatment happening at the same time.

Managing Fatigue: Complimentary treatments like acupuncture and massage therapy help combat fatigue. A healthy, nutrient-rich diet raises energy levels in patients who have a decreased appetite. A simple exercise regime of yoga or short walks can get your body used activity again.

Chemo Brain

“Chemo brain” refers to a mental fogginess that some patients experience. Trouble concentrating, memory lapses and general absentmindedness make it challenging to carry out regular tasks. Chemo brain can be caused by chemotherapy drugs as well as parallel symptoms like fatigue or depression.

Managing Brain Fog: One technique is to train your brain to persevere through the chemotherapy fog. Keep your mind active by doing puzzles or writing in a journal. At the same time, try to unburden the stress on your brain by creating a routine and writing notes for things you need to remember.

Nausea and Digestive Issues

Stomach sickness and digestive problems are unpleasant yet common chemotherapy side effects.

Patients might experience the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Bloating
  • Cramps and abdominal pains

Managing Nausea and Digestive Issues: Ask your specialist about anti-nausea medications. Eat smaller meals more often—or when you’re feeling good. Avoid greasy foods and ones that disagree with your stomach, like dairy products or fried food. Ginger and peppermint have proven to ease nausea.

Remember to drink water and stay hydrated, especially if you have diarrhea.

Hair Loss and Changes

When chemotherapy drugs are killing cancer cells, they also attack the cells at hair roots. Some patients’ hair loses color, others find their hair thinning or falling out. Hair change is the most noticeable chemotherapy side effect and is understandably an upsetting experience.

Managing Hair Change: Purchase a wig—your insurance provider may cover some of the cost. A wig specialist can design one fitting to your style. Ask your specialist about “cooling caps,” a device worn during chemotherapy to freeze out chemo drugs from the scalp. Evidence of success is conflicting, but some patients report benefits.

Easing your chemotherapy side effects can help you feel better. Raising your overall well-being then assists in the treatment process. Be sure to talk to your mesothelioma specialist before chemotherapy about techniques to decrease or mitigate troublesome side effects.

For support with chemotherapy side effects, contact our Patient Advocates today. Or register to receive our FREE Mesothelioma Help Guide to better understand your mesothelioma treatment options for improving prognosis.

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Sources
  1. American Cancer Society, “What About Chemo Side Effects?” Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/chemotherapy/what-chemo-is-and-how-it-helps/chemo-side-effects.html. Accessed on June 18, 2018.
  2. BreastCancer.org, “Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects.” Retrieved from http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/chemotherapy/side_effects. Accessed on June 18, 2018.

Last modified: September 1, 2018