Side effects of Chemotherapy

It is only human to be concerned about the side effects of irradiation, especially as there are so many misconceptions about irradiation.

However, if you understand what may or may not happen, you can avoid unnecessary anxiety and fear.

The aim of the following information is to give you peace of mind.

Nausea and Vomitting

Some medication may cause nausea and vomiting, the severity of which varies from one person to another. Anti-emetic medication is always given together with chemotherapy. There are also a variety of tablets, injections and suppositories that can be used to combat nausea. Please ask the nursing staff to arrange a prescription for you and use this medication regularly.

Diet also plays a role, and the following is recommended:

  • Always eat before you receive chemotherapy
  • Eat lighter meals with less fat.
  • Eat smaller meals, but more often.
  • Drink a lot of fluids.
  • You must eat, even if you have no appetite for food.

Take anti-emetics regularly while you are receiving chemotherapy, and for a few days afterwards.

Cystitis (Bladder infection)

Report irritation of the bladder to the oncologist so that, if any infection is present, it can be treated. Remember to increase your fluid intake.

Discolouration of urine

Some of the medication may cause discolouration of your urine. It is recommended that you increase your fluid intake so that the kidneys are flushed through properly.

Diarrhoea & Constipation

Diarrhoea: If you have three or four loose stools a day, you should drink clear fluids (soup, soft drinks, tea and ± two litres of water per day). Also consult your general practitioner or oncologist immediately.

You must prevent your body from dehydrating.

Eat a lot of bananas, carrots (cooked), grated apple (without the skin) and maizena porridge. If you want more information, please talk to the nursing staff or dietician to assist you with this.

Constipation: You could become constipated as a result of the chemotherapy. Drink a lot of fluids and follow a balanced diet rich in fibre. It is important that you take all types of fibre, so ask the dietician to advise you. Laxatives may be taken, but you must first obtain the oncologist's permission for their use.

You could try the following remedy for constipation (it is not habit-forming): One sachet of Duphalac dry = ½ teaspoon of Epsom salts, dissolved in a glass of water. You may request a prescription for this.

Hair Loss (Alopecia)

Some of the drugs will cause your hair to fall out, but it will grow back after the treatment has been stopped or completed.

In some cases a scalp-cooling device (ice bonnet) is used to limit hair loss as far as possible. For a small donation you could also obtain a wig from your nearest branch of the Cancer Association.

Stomatitis (Sores in the mouth or throat)

If you develop sores in your mouth or throat, you must report this immediately. If necessary, your oncologist can prescribe medication for you. You can also do the following to provide relief:

  • Use a mouth wash (one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in a cup of lukewarm water) after each meal and at bedtime, or four times a day.
  • Avoid food containing a lot of spices or herbs.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Avoid food that contains a lot of acid, for example lemons, grapefruit and tomatoes.

Certain vitamins provide relief for sores in the mouth. Consult our dietician for more information.

If you can no longer eat, or have difficulty in swallowing, you must contact the dietician immediately so that a nutritional supplement can be prescribed.

Bone Marrow Suppression

The bone marrow forms new blood cells in the body.

Each of the different types of blood cells plays an important role, namely:

  • White blood cells fight infection.
  • Red blood cells carry oxygen to all the parts of the body.
  • Blood platelets help with the clotting of blood.

Because bone marrow cells grow more rapidly, they also absorb more of the chemotherapy; therefore it is necessary that a blood count be taken before each treatment. If the white blood cell count is too low, you will be very susceptible to infections. It is therefore advisable that you avoid, as far as possible, people who are suffering from colds or other infections. If you experience fever or cold fever, you must contact your general practitioner or oncologist immediately.

It could happen that your treatment is postponed or that the dose is decreased because your blood count is low. This only shows that your body is not yet ready to withstand the next chemotherapy session, and does not influence the effect of the treatment on the disease.

Dr Alberts, Bouwer & Jordaan Inc.

The Alberts, Bouwer & Jordaan practices and clinics are spread across Gauteng and the North West Province and offer the most advanced treatment methods available worldwide. We pride ourselves in our quality and the standard of care given by our doctors, nurses and support staff who treat all our patients with professionalism, compassion and understanding, providing the most effective treatments and therapy.

After hours contact details:

Radiotel: +27 (0)12 333-6000

(for all practices except Klerksdorp)

PO Box 12555, Hatfield, 0028

Download documents:

Manual in terms of section 51 PAIA ACT [1]
Manual in terms of section 51 PAIA ABJ [2]