Chemotherapy Side-Effects

Chemotherapy Side-Effects: Overview

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells.  Chemotherapy works by destroying very active cancer cells that grow rapidly.  Unfortunately, chemotherapy also effects normal cells that grow rapidly such as blood cells forming in the bone marrow, cells in the hair follicles, or cells in the mouth and intestines.

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Signs, symptoms & indicators of Chemotherapy Side-Effects:

Lab Values - Cells

Symptoms - Head - Mouth/Oral

(Minor/significant) mouth sores

Mouth sores during chemotherapy are one of the most common short term side-effects.

Symptoms - Nails

Black/brown fingernails

Black line(s) across the nails are common in dark-skinned persons but may also be the result of injury or chemotherapy.

Conditions that suggest Chemotherapy Side-Effects:


Bone Marrow Suppression

Nearly all chemotherapy cause a short-term reduction in bone marrow function.

Lab Values


The most common reason that cancer patients experience neutropenia is as a side-effect of chemotherapy.  Chemotherapy-induced neutropenia typically occurs 3-7 days following administration of the chemotherapy drugs and continues for several days before recovering to normal levels.  Infrequently, cancer patients may also experience neutropenia from other medications or as a consequence of their underlying cancer.

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Risk factors for Chemotherapy Side-Effects:

Symptoms - Cancer


Chemotherapy Side-Effects can lead to:


Poor/Slow Wound Healing

Most chemotherapy drugs inhibit cell functions that are critical to proper wound repair.

Megaloblastic Anemia / Pernicious Anemia

Some chemotherapy agents are known inhibitors of folic acid enzymes and as such can induce a megaloblastic anemia.

Dental / Oral

Dry Mouth

Radiation can damage the salivary glands and reduce the amount of saliva produced.



Lab Values

Low White Blood Cell Count

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy destroy fast-growing cells such as white blood cells.  Patients receiving a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy are at greater risk of a low white count.

Recommendations for Chemotherapy Side-Effects:

Amino Acid / Protein


Several studies have shown that glutamine, when used as an oral rinse, can help to reduce cancer chemotherapy-induced mouth sores.

Botanical / Herbal


Marijuana is being used to counteract the toxicity of chemotherapy. [Grinspoon, L., and Bakaler, J.B. "Marijuana as Medicine." Journal of the American Medical Association 1995; 273(23): pp1875-76.]

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Weak or unproven link: may be a sign or symptom of; sometimes leads to
Weak or unproven link:
may be a sign or symptom of; sometimes leads to
Strong or generally accepted link: often suggests; often leads to
Strong or generally accepted link:
often suggests; often leads to
Definite or direct link: increases risk of; usually leads to
Definite or direct link:
increases risk of; usually leads to
Definitely or absolutely counter-indicates: decreases risk of
Definitely or absolutely counter-indicates:
decreases risk of
Moderately useful: often helps with
Moderately useful:
often helps with
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