The Most Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy

the most common side effects of chemotherapy

Cancer is a terrible and powerful disease affecting millions of people around the world every year. With a disease so strong it only makes sense that the medicines around to treat it are equally so. Chemotherapy is, “a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells.” It does so by attacking only the cells in your body that divide quickly, as cancer cells divide at a much faster rate than healthy cells. While chemotherapy is used to make an individual better, it does not come free of charge, in terms of your body and your wallet.

What Causes Radiation Side Effects?

Radiation and chemotherapy affect everyone differently because all people are different but there are a few physical symptoms of cancer that are the same across the board. These include: pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, anemia, lymphedia, fertility and sexual effects, and an increased severity of infections. Side effects of cancer treatment are caused by the strong dosages and strength of the medicine. The dosages of the medicines are so strong that they can also damage the healthy cells located near the treated area. Because chemotherapy attacks cells that divide quickly, the medicine commonly mistakes hair and mouth tissue calls for cancer because they also divide at a faster rate. And the list of chemotherapy side effects doesn’t stop there.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Mouth and Throat Sores

As stated above, the mouth and throat are areas that are more easily affected by chemotherapy because they are rapidly dividing cells. The chemotherapy treatment will causes painful sores called mucositis. These sores will usually form within two weeks of treatment and will go away once treatment has stopped completely. These sores can become easily infected so it is important to keep your mouth and teeth clean to help prevent this.   


While undergoing chemotherapy a patient might experience loose or watery bowel movements. Diarrhea can be a serious issue because if left untreated a person can become dehydrated very quickly.


Fatigue is describes as being tired and unable to do anything for long periods of time. Fatigue is the most common side effect of chemotherapy and can sometimes leave patients feeling depressed and helpless.


Constipation if untreated can cause an uncomfortable and stiff feeling in the lower abdomen. Drinking lots of water and eating a balanced diet while undergoing chemotherapy can lessen your chance of developing constipation.

Nervous System Effects

Nerve damage is common due to the radiation therapy. This damage can result in nerve or muscle damage including loss of balance, shaking, and weak or sore muscles. Sharp pain to the fingers and toes is also common.


Common types of pain associates with chemotherapy treatment are: headaches, muscle pain and spasms, stomach pain, and a burning sensation in the fingers and toes. Pain will usually fade over time and can be treated with medicine prescribed by your doctor.

Nausea and Vomiting

Because of the strength of the medicine, chemotherapy can cause nausea and vomiting. Depending on the type of chemotherapy received certain drugs can be taken prior to the treatment to prevent this feeling. Nausea and vomiting may also be responsible for appetite loss during chemotherapy.

Hair Loss

Hair growth happens quickly due to their quick dividing cells. Because chemotherapy is designed to attach cancer cells that reproduce quickly, hair cells are always at risk.

Once cancer treatment ends it is important to not stop caring for your body. Chemotherapy can take a lot out of a person, and care after treatment is essential. Besides daily multivitamins patients should work on low intensity exercises to get muscle movement back, eat a balanced diet, treat pain, and visit a doctor regularly. While chemotherapy comes with its negative effects, sometimes the benefits outweigh the cost.

By Maren Burns