Since all cytotoxic drugs in addition to the tumor cells always harm normal cells, side effects of chemotherapy are inevitable. However, these are tolerated because only aggressive therapy can fight the tumor.
However, one can rarely predict the severity of side effects, as they vary from patient to patient. The type of side effects also depends heavily on the drug used.
Read our topic Substances of Chemotherapy
Acute toxicity can occur if the intravenous catheter is not placed correctly and the chemo " para " can run, ie not into the vein but into the surrounding tissue. This causes severe pain, which is accompanied by a skin reaction (redness, blisters).
In different time delays may occur:
Immediate reaction: nausea, vomiting, fever, allergic reactions, drop in blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, phlebitis
Delayed, reversible reactions: Changes in blood cells, mucosal inflammation, gastrointestinal disorders with diarrhea and loss of appetite, hair loss, skin lesions, fertility disorder, lung disease, liver disease and renal impairment.
In the following, some of the above-mentioned side effects are explained in more detail:
The side effect hair loss happens on all parts of the body - so also eyelashes and eyebrows fall out. Usually, however, the hair grows again, usually even denser than before. In addition, it may happen that the color of the hair is slightly changed. For more information on this topic please follow the link Hair Loss.
Especially the mouth and throat can be affected by inflammation, which can sometimes be very painful. Here you have to be careful, as these wounds in the mouth and throat are also affected by bacteria and fungus ( oral thrush ). It would create white deposits.
Usually, vomiting is a protective reflex of the body to remove harmful substances from the body. In a manner not yet clarified, the cytostatic agent irritates the vomiting center in the brain, triggering side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Since nausea and vomiting lead to the greatest discomfort of the patient, this must and can be avoided. There are good remedies, so-called antiemetics, which help very quickly to control the nausea. To achieve even better results, antiemetics are already being used as prophylaxis during chemo (dexamethasone, Setrone, MCP ). For more information on this topic please follow the link Vomiting.
Our blood cells are produced in the bone marrow from the so-called stem cells. They are very sensitive to chemotherapy and are damaged to the point that they can no longer sufficiently produce the cells for our blood. First and foremost, the white blood cells (here most of the so-called neutrophilic granulocytes ) and the platelets ( platelets ) are affected. These two components of the blood have crucial functions for the organism, the neutrophilic granulocytes are important for our defense against infection, the platelets play a major role in the hemostasis. Now if these two components are reduced, we are more susceptible to infections and bleed even with minor injuries. Since we have virtually no functioning immune system during this time, usually mild infections can be life-threatening. Therefore, it is important to minimize the risk of infection - the patient himself, but also the people around him, should wear a mask and gloves. If, despite all precautionary measures, an infection does occur, then you have to act quickly and treat it with a broad spectrum of antibiotics. For several years, one has the opportunity to increase the number of neutrophils by a new drug (G-CSF). So we are faster again able to build a competent defensive position.
Of course, the red blood cells (erythrocytes) are also affected by chemotherapy. The decrease in erythrocytes leads to side effects of anemia, the so-called hemoglobin level falls. Because the RBCs carry the vital oxygen that is essential for our energy production, the anemia is associated with a performance drop, the patients are tired and cut off.
Some patients complain of the side effects of persistent loss of appetite. The food tastes bland (just "cardboard") and any enjoyment of the food is lost. This automatically leads to weight loss.
The side effects listed here are basically reversible after discontinuation of chemotherapy, which means they usually disappear completely.
However, it can also lead to rare complications that cause permanent damage.
Here, the heart muscle is attacked by the chemotherapy, so that it loses some of its contractility and thus triggers a heart failure. Accordingly, chemotherapy should be double-considered in the case of pre-existing heart disease, but also at a higher age. In the further course of the heart function should be well examined.
Most cytotoxic drugs are excreted via the kidney. This means that they inevitably have to pass through the kidney and may be toxic (poisonous). Especially affected are the so-called renal tubules, through which the urine flows and is concentrated here. In addition, important substances which were otherwise lost through the urine are taken back into the circulation from the tubules ( resorbed ). On the other hand, toxic substances are excreted via the urine as well as to the body. These functions can no longer fulfill a damaged kidney.
There is a certain risk of side effects that touch is no longer properly perceived or the sense of touch no longer works completely. An unpleasant tingling sensation can also be the result of chemotherapy. Not yet proven is a possible damage to our brain. Take an interest in the topic of nerves.
Paradoxically, chemotherapy, although used for cancer healing, can cause the growth of a second tumor years after treatment. Thankfully, this "side effect" is very rare. It should not be forgotten that even after a successful cancer cure, the chance to get cancer again is that of a healthy person. So it's not zero.
To be fertile, both men and women need important hormones (like testosterone and progestin). The production of these hormones can be disturbed by chemotherapy and thus cause infertility. In addition, in the woman chemotherapy may occur premature onset of menopause. This affects primarily young patients who receive very high doses of chemotherapy, for example, in the context of a leukemia treatment. For more information on this topic please follow our link Infertility.
As rare further sequelae, it can also lead to side effects of the lung (in the form of a so-called pulmonary fibrosis), the liver and the vascular system (hypertension).