Common Side Effects

Common Side Effects
The most common side effect that people usually associate with cancer treatment is that of hair loss. However, not all patients lose their hair; it depends on what sort of treatment they are getting. In addition, not all patients experience the same side effects- some get them more severely than others even if they are taking the same medication.
Read on to find out more about what common side effects to expect when receiving cancer treatment, depending on the therapy:
Because tumors grow and multiply quickly, chemotherapy works by targeting and killing fast-growing cells in the body.  However, chemotherapy can’t tell the difference between a normal cell and a cancerous cell- which is why other fast-growing cells in the body such as hair cells are killed off too.
The side effects are only temporary; once you complete your chemo treatment your healthy cells recover and you will feel better.
One thing to remember is that chemotherapy temporarily lowers your immunity, so you are more susceptible to catching infections or viruses. Avoid being around people who are ill, and avoid being in public places that are too crowded, as it’s easy to catch something in that sort of environment.
Here are some common side effects you might experience from chemo:
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anemia
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Increased chance of infection
  • Increased chance of bleeding and bruising
Read more about chemotherapy here.
There is no way to really predict how your body will respond to radiotherapy. Some people will experience more side effects than others, but here are some common side effects you might feel when undergoing radiotherapy:
  • Red, sore or itchy skin
  • Hair loss (usually only in the treatment area)
  • Anemia
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Stiff muscles and joints
  • Difficulty swallowing (if the radiotherapy targets the mouth, head or chest area)
  • Lymphedema (this is when your lymph nodes swell up and become inflamed. Some breast cancer patients experience this)
Read more about radiotherapy and how to manage its side effects here.
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Soreness and bruising around the surgery area
  • Mild to moderate pain (let your doctor know straight away if the pain you're feeling is very severe)
  • Light bleeding from the wound
  • Lymphedema (might occur if the surgery is to remove lymph nodes)
Read more about cancer surgery here.
Bone Marrow Transplants
  • Fatigue
  • Sore mouth
  • Bleeding (such as bleeding gums, nosebleeds or blood in your urine). Tell your doctor straight away if you experience this
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty eating or drinking
  • Diarrhea
  • Graft versus host disease
    • A common condition as a result of an allogenic bone marrow or stem cell transplantation. It is when the transplanted white blood cells identify the body tissue (the host) as "foreign".
    • Symptoms incluide skin rash, mild liver problems and diarrhea that can be severe. This may be controlled by giving extra medications including corticosteroids.
Read more about bone marrow transplants here.