You will find that many people who receive their cancer diagnosis are immediately pushed towards chemotherapy. After all, it is the most common treatment of cancer. However, along with killing the cancer cells, chemotherapy affects the rest of the body as well.
While chemo kills cancer-causing cells, it also destroys healthy cells that play a crucial role in the workings of the body. This leads to side effects that can affect you in the long term. Of course, this also depends on your overall health and the kind of chemotherapy you opt for.
Most of the side effects indeed disappear once the treatment comes to an end. However, there are some long-term side effects of chemotherapy that you must be aware of. In any case, make sure to have an open discussion with your doctor and weigh all your options before opting for cancer treatment. Based on your body’s reactions, your doctor may prescribe another method or choose to adjust the dose of the chemotherapy.
Here are some long-term side effects of chemotherapy:
Chemotherapy involves monitoring blood count daily. Since chemotherapy kills cells that live in the bone marrow, the red blood cells are at risk too. If there are not sufficient red blood cells in your body, oxygen will not reach tissues, causing anemia.
Anemia can lead to:
- Difficulty in thinking
- Always feeling cold
Chemotherapy can also reduce the number of white blood cells in the body. These are the foundation of the immune system as they help fight diseases and infections.
You may not notice this immediately, but if you find yourself getting sick more often after chemo, it may indicate fewer white blood cells in the body. Hence, after chemo, most doctors recommend their patients avoid exposure to any potential viruses, bacteria, and illnesses.
Chemo drugs can also reduce the platelet count in your body. Platelets allow the blood to clot as they aid fast recovery.
However, lower platelets may mean that you find yourself bleeding and bruising easily. You may experience nosebleeds, heavy menstruation, as well as blood in the stool.
Moreover, chemo drugs are known to weaken the head muscle and disturb the heart’s natural rhythm. This can affect the heart’s ability to pump blood daily.
You may even be at higher risk of a heart attack. However, if your heart is healthy and strong before you start chemotherapy, you are less likely to experience these side effects.
Chemo fog is a form of mild cognitive impairment that affects the central nervous system and our emotions, thoughts, and coordination. This is why many people who have undergone chemotherapy complain of their inability to remember things or concentrate on everyday activities. For some people, chemo fog, also known as chemo brain, may go away sometime after chemotherapy. However, for others, it can cause long-term effects on the brain.
Chemotherapy may also make the muscles in your body feel shaky and tired. You may notice a delay in motor skills and slower reflexes, along with some problems with coordination.
Chemotherapy is known to affect digestion commonly. Many patients complain of experiencing dry mouth, along with sores that form inside the mouth, mainly on the tongue, lips, gums, or even at the back of the throat, making swallowing a painful chore. Sometimes, mouth sores can become infected and may lead to bleeding.
Chemotherapy may also leave behind a metallic taste in the mouth, causing a yellow or white film on the tongue. Chemo patients often lose their appetite as food does not taste good, leading to unintentional weight loss at a rapid scale.
Moreover, chemotherapy can also affect the gastrointestinal tract. Hence, vomiting and nausea are common symptoms. If you face these symptoms, talk to your doctor and ask for anti-nausea medications to reduce vomiting.
Chemotherapy can cause hard or loose stool, along with diarrhea and constipation. You may also experience pressure, bloating, and gas in the abdomen. Most doctors recommend drinking lots of water to reduce symptoms of dehydration.
Chemotherapy drugs cause hormonal changes in women and men. Women may experience hot flashes, irregular periods, or even menopause. Moreover, vaginal dryness is a common symptom that makes intercourse extremely uncomfortable. This increases the chance of developing infections in the vagina.
Getting pregnant is a huge risk during chemotherapy, which is why it is not recommended. As a side effect of chemotherapy, women may become infertile. If chemotherapy drugs are administered during pregnancy, birth defects can also increase.
Men who undergo chemotherapy face low sperm count, which increases their chances of infertility. Moreover, tiredness, anxiety, and fatigue are common symptoms that can also affect sex drive in both men and women.
Chemotherapy is not easy, neither is living with cancer. It is a stressful, scary time, as patients witness their appearance and health deteriorate. Depression is also a common symptom of chemotherapy that affects everyday life.
If you have trouble coping with the side effects of chemotherapy, know that you are not alone. Attend local cancer support groups to meet more people who are going through similar treatments as you. While your friends and family members will try their best to support you, no one knows exactly what you are going through, except people who have gone through cancer. If feelings of depression linger, you can always opt for counseling or turn towards medication.
Even though there are side effects to chemotherapy, it is one of the only effective ways to eliminate cancer.