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What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

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Published on Dec 21, 2009

Chemotherapy side effects can vary depending on the dosage and the length of treatment

What you should know:
•Side effects range from mild to severe
•Most common side effects are nausea and vomiting
•Hair loss, exhaustion, and infection are other side effects

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Transcript
Hi, I'm Erika Shephard and I'm a CVS pharmacist.
There is a lot to take in after being diagnosed with breast cancer. A flood of information and questions consumes your thoughts. Chemotherapy is often at the top of the question list.
Chemotherapy is an incredibly important part of treating cancer. There can be side effects ranging from mild to severe, depending on which drugs you're given, the dosage, and the length of treatment.
The most common side effects associated with chemotherapy are nausea and vomiting, which typically subside within a day after a treatment. There are over-the-counter anti-nausea medications that can help reduce this side effect, as well as eating small frequent meals, avoiding spicy foods, and practicing self-hypnosis.
Exhaustion and increased risk of infection are other side effects of chemotherapy that unfortunately last through the full treatment. Because you're at an increased risk of infection, it is very important you wash your hands often and thoroughly, avoiding sick people as much as possible. Your doctor may also prescribe drugs called colony-stimulating factors, which improve your blood cell count, giving you more energy. Exercising daily and getting proper rest can help prevent exhaustion. And most importantly, avoid any unnecessary stress or chores. Your number-one focus should be you.
Hair loss is another side effect of chemotherapy. Many women cut their hair short or get a wig before chemo starts, to help them adjust to the change. Other side effects may include sores in the mouth, changes in the skin, and menstrual irregularities.
More severe side effects include premature menopause, acute myeloid leukemia, kidney or bladder problems, and peripheral neuropathy, which may make your hands or feet feel tingly. These are rare, but should be discussed with your doctor at the first sign of symptoms.
I hope this gives you a clearer understanding of chemotherapy. If you have any questions, talk to your CVS pharmacist. We're here to help.

Source: CVS Caremark Health Resources

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