Managing Patients On Chemotherapy

About Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy treatments use strong drugs taken orally or intravenously (IV) to kill cancer cells in the body. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), these drugs also cause damage to healthy cells including bone marrow, hair and digestive organs. Side effects vary per patient, but the ACS advises that common problems include hair loss, mouth sores, nausea, vomiting, changes in bowel habits and fatigue. An additional effect is decreased white blood cells which raises the risk of infection.

Causes Of ChemoTherapy Side Effects

Chemotherapy drugs kill fast-growing cancer cells and may affect healthy growing cells. Damage to healthy cells causes side effects which raises concerns for many patients. Normal cells at risk of being damaged include blood-forming cells in the bone marrow, hair follicles, cells in the mouth, digestive tract, and reproductive system. Chemotherapy drugs may also damage cells in the heart, kidneys, bladder, lungs, and nervous system. Therefore, medicines to protect healthy cells may be given in addition.

Chemotherapy Drugs And Potential Side Effects

Over 50 chemotherapy drugs are commonly used. Table 1 lists some of them, the types of cancer they treat and the possible side effects though not conclusive. Each patient has his/her own individual medical profile

Chemotherapy drugs

Indications/uses

Possible side effects

Carboplatin (Paraplatin)

-Given intravenously (IV)

  • Decrease in blood cell counts

  • Hair loss (reversible)

  • Confusion

  • Treats ovary, head, neck, and lung cancer

    Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhoea (occurs 24 - 72hours following treatment)

    Cisplatin (Platinol, Platinol-AQ)

    Given intravenously (IV)

  • Decrease in blood cell counts

  • Allergic reactions including rash

  • Treats bladder, ovary, and testicular cancer

  • Nausea and vomiting that usually occurs for 24 hours or longer

  • Ringing in the ears and hearing loss

  • Fluctuations in blood electrolytes

  • Kidney damage

  • Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar)

    Given intravenously (IV) or orally

  • Decrease in blood cell counts

  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain

  • Treats breast cancer, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma

  • Decreased appetite

  • Hair loss (reversible)

  • Bladder damage

  • Fertility impairment

  • Lung or heart damage (with high doses)

  • Secondary malignancies (rare)

  • Doxorubicin (Adriamycin)

    Given intravenously (IV)

  • Decrease in blood cell counts

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Hair loss (reversible)

  • Treats breast cancer, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Heart damage



  • Chemotherapy drugs

    Indications/uses

    Possible side effects

    Etoposide (VePesid)

    Given intravenously (IV) or orally

  • Decrease in blood cell counts

  • Hair loss (reversible)

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Allergic reaction

  • Treats lung and testicular cancer, leukaemia, and lymphoma

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Low blood pressure (during administration)

  • Decreased appetite

  • Diarrhoea and abdominal pain

  • Bronchospasm

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Fluorouracil(5-FU)

    Given intravenously (IV)

  • Decrease in blood cell counts

  • Diarrhoea

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Treats colon, breast, stomach, head and neck cancer

  • Photosensitivity

  • Dry skin

  • Gemcitabine (Gemzar)

    Given intravenously (IV)

  • Decrease in blood cell counts

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Fever and flu-like symptoms

  • Treats pancreas, breast, ovary, and lung cancer

  • Rash

  • Methotrexate (Folex, Mexate, Amethopterin)

    Given intravenously (IV), intrathecally (into the spinal column), or orally

  • Decrease in blood cell counts

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Skin rashes and photosensitivity

  • Dizziness, headache, or drowsiness

  • Treats breast, lung, blood, bone cancer, and lymph system

  • Dizziness, headache, or drowsiness

  • Kidney damage (with high- dose therapy)

  • Liver damage

  • Hair loss (reversible)

  • Seizures



  • Chemotherapy drugs

    Indications/uses

    Possible side effects

    Irinotecan (Camptosar)

    Given intravenously (IV)

  • Decrease in blood cell counts

  • Diarrhoea

  • Hair loss (reversible)

  • Treats colon and rectum cancer

    Paclitaxel (Taxol)

    Given intravenously (IV)

  • Decrease in blood cell counts

  • Allergic reactions

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Loss of appetite

  • Treats bladder,ovary, andtesticular cancer

  • Change in taste

  • Thin or brittle hair

  • Joint pain (short term)

  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes

  • Vincristine (Oncovin,Vincasar PFS)

    Given intravenously

  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes

  • Weakness pain

  • Treats leukaemia and lymphoma

  • Loss of reflexes

  • Jaw pain

  • Hair loss (reversible)

  • Constipation or abdominal cramping

  • Vinblastine (Velban)

    Given intravenously

  • Decrease in blood cell counts

  • Hair loss (reversible)

  • Constipation or abdominal cramping

  • Treats lymphoma and cancer of testis, head and neck

  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes