Menstrual Changes And Fertility Issues
For younger women, changes in menstrual periods are a common side effect of chemo. Premature menopause and infertility may occur and could be permanent. If this happens, there is an increased risk of heart disease, bone loss, and osteoporosis. There are medicines that can treat or help prevent bone loss.
Even if your periods stop while you are on chemo, you may still be able to get pregnant. Getting pregnant while on chemo could lead to birth defects and interfere with treatment. If you have not gone through menopause before treatment and are sexually active, its important to discuss using birth control with your doctor. It is not a good idea for women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer to take hormonal birth control , so its important to talk with both your oncologist and your gynecologist about what options would be best for you. When women have finished treatment , they can safely go on to have children, but it’s not safe to get pregnant while being treated.
If you think you might want to have children after being treated for breast cancer, talk with your doctor soon after being diagnosed and before you start treatment. For some women, adding medicines, like monthly injections with a luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone analog, along with chemo, can help them have a successful pregnancy after cancer treatment. To learn more, see Female Fertility and Cancer.
Why Does Chemotherapy Cause Side Effects
Chemotherapy damages cells that divide rapidly, such as cancer cells. However, some normal cells such as blood cells, hair follicles and cells inside the mouth, bowel and reproductive organs also divide rapidly.
When these normal cells are damaged, side effects may occur. Some people have few or mild side effects, while others may feel more unwell. As the body constantly makes new cells, most side effects are temporary. The drugs used for chemotherapy are constantly being improved to give you the best possible outcomes and to reduce potential side effects.
See Managing chemotherapy side effects for more information and talk to your treatment team for tips on dealing with side effects.
Following Your First Treatment
After your first treatment, try to rest, commented Dr. Swaney. You may not feel side effects right away, but your body is hard at work, battling alongside your new medication. Patients often ask how much time they will need away from work or how much help they will need at home. While this varies according to the treatment regimen, it is common to be off work on treatment days and sometimes several days afterwards. You will generally be able to continue many activities but may need more help with things like food preparation, shopping and the like. Often, you will learn during your first few treatments how you are affected.
Your medical team is focused on your well-being and will meet with you regularly to discuss how you are doing and how the cancer treatment is progressing. During follow-up visits, you are encouraged to speak plainly about any difficulties you are experiencing so that your treatment or associated medications can be modified if needed. During treatment, your medical team may recommend scans of your body to check on progress. There are various scans used to assess the cancer. These scans provide important milestone information that your team will use to modify your treatment plan if needed.
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Recovery Time Between Cycles
Between chemotherapy cycles, the body needs time to rest and heal from the damage that may have been done to healthy cells within the body by the treatment.
Recovery times can vary depending on the person and the type of chemotherapy they are receiving. The length of recovery time is also factored in to the overall length of chemotherapy treatment.
When To Call Your Cancer Care Team About Chemo Side Effects
Because your cancer care team will give you lots of information about side effects, you might be more aware of physical changes. Do not take any physical symptoms you have lightly. Some side effects are short-lived and minor, but others may be a sign of serious problems. Make sure you know how to reach someone on your team any time, including after hours, weekends, and holidays.
Contact your cancer care team right away if you have any of the following symptoms during chemo treatment:
- A fever higher than what your cancer care team has instructed
- Bleeding or unexplained bruising
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How Does Chemotherapy Treatment Work
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment.
The drugs are given in cycles. Therell be a set time where you have the drug treatment and then a set time where you dont, before the process is repeated.
The time in between drug treatments helps your body to recover from the effects of the chemotherapy, but is short enough to make sure the cancer cells dont start to grow again.
Chemotherapy can be used on its own to treat cancer and eventually cure it. Its also used alongside other treatments, like radiotherapy and surgery.
It can be used before surgery to kill cancer cells and shrink a tumour, or after surgery to stop cancer coming back.
And it can be used as a medicine to help you feel better if your cancer is very advanced.
Factors Affecting Chemotherapy Duration
Cancer Research UK notes that the length of a persons chemotherapy treatment and the structure and length of their cycles depends on the following factors:
- the type of cancer and its stage
- the chemotherapy medications the doctor prescribes
- the cancers response to the medications
- the nature and severity of side effects from the medications
Since chemotherapy drugs can harm healthy cells, a person needs to excrete as much chemotherapy medication as possible before receiving another treatment cycle.
Different chemotherapy drugs remain in the body for different amounts of time. Some examples are as follows:
could increase the amount of time that chemotherapy drugs remain in the persons system:
- interactions between the chemotherapy drugs and any other drugs the person is taking
- liver or kidney dysfunction caused by tumors or cancers
- liver or kidney dysfunction caused by cancer therapies
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Practical Hints For Nausea
- Eat a small, light meal before your chemotherapy appointment. Most people do better if they have something in their stomach.
- Eat what sounds good to you. In general, starches such as rice, bread, potatoes, hot cereals and puddings are well tolerated.
- Try not to skip meals. An empty stomach will worsen all symptoms. If you don’t feel like sitting down to a meal, try nibbling on something that appeals to you.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Herbal teas, water, sports drinks and diluted juices are recommended more than soda.
- Avoid unappealing smells.
- Freeze meals so you don’t have to cook. Ask your family and friends to help with meals, especially following chemotherapy when you are most likely to feel nauseated.
For more practical tips on dealing with nausea, schedule a free appointment with the dietitian by contacting the Patient and Family Cancer Support Center.
How Will I Know If Chemotherapy Is Working
You will see your doctor often. During these visits, they will ask you how you feel, do a physical exam, and order medical tests and scans. Tests might include blood tests. Scans might include MRI, CT, or PET scans.
You cannot tell if chemotherapy is working based on its side effects. Some people think that severe side effects mean that chemotherapy is working well, or that no side effects mean that chemotherapy is not working. The truth is that side effects have nothing to do with how well chemotherapy is fighting your cancer.
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Future Treatments For Chemo Brain
Although it may be possible to design drugs to reduce the cognitive effects of chemotherapy, that would bring with it the worry that additional chemicals might interact with the chemotherapy itself, causing other unwanted effects or preventing it from working as it needs to.
Instead, the team hopes that natural interventions might be uncovered that can ward off the damage that results from chemo brain.
To that end, the researchers investigated whether a diet with additional omega-3-fatty acids might help reduce the cognitive impacts of chemotherapy on the mice. Unfortunately, this intervention did not yield significant results.
The current study is the first to produce an animal model demonstrating the long-term effects of chemotherapy on the brain. In the future, the team hopes that the model will be used to investigate other potential nutritional components and chart their effects on chemo brain.
Practical Hints For Fatigue
- Plan your activities, such as grocery shopping, for a time when you feel the best.
- If you have children, rest when they are napping. When you feel most tired, consider hiring a babysitter for a few hours so that you can relax or take a nap.
- Take naps early in the day so you do not disturb your sleep pattern at night.
- Consider exercising every day or several times a week. Good forms of exercise include swimming, walking and yoga. Contact the Patient and Family Cancer Support Center for information on free exercise classes.
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Can I Work During Chemotherapy
It depends on the work that you do and on how you feel. On days you donât feel well, you may want to see if you can work fewer hours or work from home. In some cases, employers are required by law to adjust your schedule when you have cancer treatment. A social worker may be able to help you learn about what the law allows.
How Vitamins Affect Chemotherapy Drugs
Many people want to take an active role in improving their overall health. They want to help their bodys natural defenses fight the cancer and speed up their recovery from chemo. Most people think of vitamins as a safe way to improve health, so its not surprising that many people with cancer take high doses of one or more vitamins. But some vitamins might make chemo less effective.
More research is needed, but until more is known about the effects of vitamins on chemo, keep these points in mind:
- If your doctor has not told you to take vitamins, its best not to take any.
- Always check with your doctor first before starting to take a vitamin of any kind, even a simple multivitamin.
- Ask your doctors if and when it might be OK to start taking vitamins after treatment.
- If youre concerned about nutrition, you can usually get plenty of vitamins by eating a well-balanced diet. See Nutrition for People With Cancer to learn more about nutrition during and after cancer treatment.
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Receiving Chemotherapy For Blood Cancer
Each type of blood cancer has its own chemo regimen. You’ll often receive the same drugs in the same order for the same duration as other people with blood cancer.
But your doctor will also tailor your treatment to your exact circumstances if needed.
In general, you’ll receive chemo:
- In cycles. That means you’ll have treatment periods followed by rest periods to allow your body to recover.
Before you start treatment, your doctor will explain:
- How long each treatment cycle will last.
- How many treatment cycles you will need.
For example, if you have acute lymphocytic leukemia , you can expect treatment in three phases:
Doctors often use chemo along with radiation therapy and steroids to treat blood cancer.
Your doctor may also recommend chemotherapy combined with a stem cell transplant to replace your body’s blood-forming cells.
Feeling Unwell Or Tired
Many women do not feel as healthy after chemo as they did before. There is often a residual feeling of body pain or achiness and a mild loss of physical functioning. These changes may be very subtle and happen slowly over time.
Fatigue is another common problem for women who have received chemo. This may last a few months up to several years. It can often be helped, so its important to let your doctor or nurse know about it. Exercise, naps, and conserving energy may be recommended. If you have sleep problems, they can be treated. Sometimes fatigue can be a sign of depression, which may be helped by counseling and/or medicines.
How Long Do You Need To Take Chemotherapy Drugs
On average, chemotherapy treatments take 3-6 months to complete. This can vary depending on the type of cancer, the stage of cancer, and the specific chemotherapy drugs being used.
You may need one or more treatment cycles lasting 2-6 weeks each with a rest period in between. For instance, you might get chemo daily for 1 week, followed by 3 weeks off before starting a new cycle.
This approach is designed to destroy cancer cells and give the body time to recover and make healthy cells.
What Happens Before Chemotherapy
Each chemotherapy treatment plan is created to meet a patient’s unique needs. But before treatment starts, you can expect to take these general steps.
Meet with your oncologist. The doctor will look over your medical records and do a physical exam. You will also have tests done to help plan treatment. Your exact treatment depends on the type, size, and location of the cancer. Your doctor will also consider your age, your general health, and other factors, such as previous cancer treatments.
Learn about your chemotherapy treatment schedule. Your health care team will explain when and how often you need chemotherapy. Most chemotherapy treatments are given in repeating cycles. The length of a cycle depends on the drug you receive. Most cycles range from 2 to 6 weeks. The number of treatment doses scheduled within each cycle also depends on the prescribed chemotherapy.
For example, each cycle may contain only 1 dose on the first day. Or, a cycle may contain more than 1 dose given each week or each day. Often, your doctor will check if the treatment is working after you finish 2 cycles. Most people have several cycles of chemotherapy. Sometimes, chemotherapy treatment is ongoing as a maintenance therapy.
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What Does Chemotherapy Do
It depends on the kind of cancer you have and how far along it is.
- Cure: In some cases, the treatment can destroy cancer cells to the point that your doctor can no longer detect them in your body. After that, the best outcome is that they never grow back again, but that doesnât always happen.
- Control: In some cases, it may only be able to keep cancer from spreading to other parts of your body or slow the growth of cancer tumors.
- Ease symptoms: In some cases, chemotherapy canât cure or control the spread of cancer and is simply used to shrink tumors that cause pain or pressure. These tumors often continue to grow back.
How Long After Chemo Does Your Body Get Back To Normal
There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to a timeframe. Everyone is different and the amount of time you spend recovering depends on multiple factors.
Even though theres not set amount of time to fixate on, theres a lot you can do to help yourself move forward:
Self-Nourishment Much like food feeds your body, experiences feed your soul. Its important to give yourself exactly what you need at any given time. Want to take that nap you used to feel guilty about? Go for it! Read new books, listen to new music, pay attention to your needs, and most of all enjoy yourself.
Socialize You might be feeling a bit low after treatment has been completed, which is common. Surround yourself with a solid support system this can come in the form of family, friends, or an actual support group. Joining a group with other survivors will help forge a connection with others who have had similar experiences.
Set Goals Your survival gives you a second chance at life a chance to focus on what truly matters most to you. This could be as small as writing in a journal every day or walking every morning, or as large as starting your own business out of your home. Whatever the case may be, setting goals for yourself will feel you with an overwhelming sense of positivity and accomplishment.
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How Chemotherapy Is Given
Chemotherapy may be given in many ways. Some common ways include
- oral: comes in pills, capsules, or liquids that you swallow
- intravenous : goes directly into a vein
- injection: given by a shot in a muscle in your arm, thigh, or hip, or right under the skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or belly
- intrathecal: injected into the space between the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord
- intraperitoneal : goes directly into the peritoneal cavity, which is the area in your body that contains organs such as your intestines, stomach, and liver
- intra-arterial : injected directly into the artery that leads to the cancer
- topical: comes in a cream that you rub onto your skin
Of all the methods mentioned above, chemotherapy is most often given with an IV, through a thin needle that is placed in a vein on your hand or lower arm. Your nurse will put the needle in at the start of each treatment and remove it when treatment is over. IV chemotherapy may also be given through catheters or ports, sometimes with the help of a pump.