Dealing with the side effects of Chemotherapy is huge distraction from the business of doing what you should to support and expedite healing from cancer. You now have a whole new set of issues to treat, many of which can leave you feeling depressed and caught up in a downward spiral.
Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with drugs that can destroy cancer cells by impeding their growth and reproduction. Though chemotherapy is an effective way to treat many types of cancer, chemotherapy treatment also carries a risk of side effects. Some chemotherapy side effects are mild and treatable, while others can cause serious complications. The drugs used are made to destroy fast-reproducing cells. However, some healthy cells also grow quickly and cancer treatments destroy these cells as well.
The fast-growing, normal cells most likely to be affected by certain treatment drugs are blood-forming cells in the bone marrow, as well as cells in the digestive track, reproductive system, and hair follicles. Thankfully, most normal cells recover quickly when treatment is over. Therefore, most side effects gradually disappear after treatment ends. During the course of your cancer journey, you may experience many, a few, or no side effects.
Some newer anti-cancer treatments — such as Herceptin for breast cancer — may cause heart damage as well, although the effect is often temporary and reversible.
If your doctor is considering using a chemotherapy drug that may affect your heart, you may undergo heart function testing before and during treatment. Be sure to ask questions if you have any misgivings.
Chemotherapy drugs that may cause nausea and vomiting
Certain chemotherapy drugs are more likely than are others to cause nausea and vomiting. Some medications associated with significant risk of these side effects include:
- Altretamine (Hexalen)
- Busulfan (Busulfex, Myleran)
- Carmustine (Bicnu)
- Cisplatin (Platinol)
- Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
- Doxorubicin (Adriamycin)
- Epirubicin (Ellence)
- Estramustine (Emcyt)
- Ifosfamide (Ifex)
- Lomustine (Ceenu)
- Mechlorethamine (Mustargen)
- Procarbazine (Matulane)
- Streptozocin (Zanosar)
- Temozolomide (Temodar)
You will most likely be given a prescription medication to help with these side effects. There are also nutritional foods and supplements that can help. Acupuncture has been known to reduce the occurrence of nausea and vomiting, and is a wonderful complimentary therapy.
Chemotherapy may cause hair loss all over your body — not just on your scalp. Sometimes your eyelash, eyebrow, armpit, pubic and other body hair also falls out. Some chemotherapy drugs are more likely than others to cause hair loss, and different doses can cause anything from a mere thinning to complete baldness. Talk to your doctor or nurse about the medication you'll be taking.
I found that a wig helped me through this phase, and I bought eyebrow tattoos online that worked well. A light eyeliner helped me feel better about losing my eyelashes. Three weeks after the end of Chemo, my hair began to grow back.
Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also be called chemo fog, cognitive changes or cognitive dysfunction.
Signs and symptoms of chemo brain may include:
- Being unusually disorganized
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty finding the right word
- Difficulty learning new skills
- Difficulty multitasking
- Feeling of mental fogginess
- Short attention span
- Short-term memory problems
- Taking longer than usual to complete routine tasks
- Trouble with verbal memory, such as remembering a conversation
- Trouble with visual memory, such as recalling an image or list of words
Signs and symptoms of cognitive or memory problems vary from person to person and are typically temporary, often subsiding within two years of completion of cancer treatment.
Again, there are many nutritional supplements and foods that can help you with Chemo Brain. See my post on Managing Side Effects.
- Questioning Chemotherapy (1996) Equinox Press. ISBN 978-1881025252
- Integrative Strategies for Cancer Patients: A Practical Resource for Managing the Side Effects of Cancer Therapy; Elena J. Ladas , Kara M. Kelly
- Living well with cancer: a nurse tells you everything you need to know about managing the side effects of your treatment; by Katen Moore, Libby Schmais
I made sure to set up Acupuncture appointments 4 days after each Chemo session. The reason for the delay was to wait until I was no longer 'glowing' or toxic! :)
According to my Oncologist, I went through Chemo treatments much better than many other patients. I attribute that to the supplements I took and specific foods I ate that targeted the side effects, to acupuncture and to massage therapy sessions, as well as walking 20 minutes most days. My nausea was minimal and only lasted 24 hours, with only one dose of the meds.
I still have acupuncture once a month. It helps my liver stay happy and the toxins to keep moving out of my system, as well as removing any energy block. Be sure to ask for a referral to a TCM trained acupuncturist. Mine is a wonderful woman who apprenticed with a Chinese doctor in China.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture applies needles, heat, pressure, and other treatments to certain places on the skin to cause a change in the physical functions of the body. The use of acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). TCM is a medical system that has been used for thousands of years to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease.
Acupuncture is based on the belief that qi (vital energy) flows through the body along a network of paths, called meridians. Qi is said to affect a person’s spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical condition.
How does it Work?
According to TCM, qi has two forces, yin and yang. Yin and yang are opposite forces that work together to form a whole. The forces of yin and yang depend on each other and are made from each other in an unending cycle, such as hot and cold, day and night, and health and disease. Nothing is ever all yin or all yang, both exist in all things, including people.
Many of the major organs of the body are believed to be yin-yang pairs that must be in balance to be healthy. When a person's yin and yang are not in balance, qi can become blocked. Blocked qi causes pain, illness, or other health problems. TCM uses acupuncture, diet, herbal therapy, meditation, physical exercise, and massage to restore health by unblocking qi and correcting the balance of yin and yang within the person.
Acupuncture may cause physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain. These responses can cause the body to release proteins, hormones, and brain chemicals that control a number of body functions. It is proposed that, in this way, acupuncture affects blood pressure and body temperature, boosts immune system activity, and causes the body's natural painkillers, such as endorphins, to be released.
Which Side Effects Can it Relieve?
1. The strongest evidence of the effect of acupuncture has come from clinical trials on the use of acupuncture to relieve nausea and vomiting. Several types of clinical trials using different acupuncture methods showed acupuncture reduced nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, surgery, and morning sickness. It appears to be more effective in preventing vomiting than in reducing nausea.
A study of acupuncture, vitamin B6 injections, or both for nausea and vomiting in patients treated with chemotherapy for ovarian cancer found that acupuncture and vitamin B6 together gave more relief from vomiting than acupuncture or vitamin B6 alone.
A study of acupressure for relief of nausea and vomiting was done in women undergoing chemotherapy. The study found that acupressure applied to an acupuncture point with a wristband helped to decrease nausea and vomiting and reduced the amount of medicine the women used for those symptoms.
2. In clinical studies, acupuncture reduced the amount of pain in some cancer patients. In one study, most of the patients treated with acupuncture were able to stop taking drugs for pain relief or to take smaller doses.
3. A randomized study of patients with cancer-related fatigue found that those who had a series of acupuncture treatments had less fatigue compared to those who had acupressure or sham acupressure treatments.
4. Hormone therapy may cause hot flashes in women with breast cancer and men withprostate cancer. Some studies have shown that acupuncture may be effective in relieving hot flashes in these patients.
5. Human studies on the effect of acupuncture have shown that it changes immune system response.
I took Glutamine powder during Chemo and didn't have problems with nausea or diarrhea, and after surgery it accelerated my healing. Seacure® is a supplement with Glutamine that is highly recommended for patients going through Chemo treatment. Founded in 1994 by Dr. Donald Snyder and headquartered in Reading, Pa., Proper Nutrition, Inc. is built on a record of innovation stretching back to the early 1960s, when Dr. Snyder, as the head of a U.S. Department of the Interior Fisheries Research Laboratory, led the charge against world hunger.
Dr. Snyder, as a member of a special committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, was instrumental in developing an economically feasible method of providing protein to the world’s hungry.
A breakthrough came in the form of revolutionary FPC (Fish Protein Concentrate) technology, which allowed quality protein, retaining all of its original nutritional value, to be delivered to the body in a highly absorbable form. FPC was made available to the World Health Organization of the United Nations to aid in famine relief.
Today, Dr. Snyder and Proper Nutrition, Inc. offer revolutionary dietary supplements, including Intestive®, available directly to consumers; and SEACURE® and SEAVIVE®, professional products available for distribution by healthcare practitioners and retailers. Proper Nutrition supplements offer proven alternatives for the support of the gastrointestinal tract and the promotion of immune system health.
Seacure® (click to read more) is rich in glutamine. What is glutamine? Glutamine is an amino acid (protein building block) that is the preferential fuel source for the cells that line the digestive tract. Just as the brain loves to use glucose for energy, the cells that line the digestive tract love to use glutamine for energy. In fact glutamine helps the cells that line the digestive tract to deal with stress more effectively.
So why are the cells of the digestive tract stressed?
Well, these cells divide rapidly just like cancer cells. The lining of the stomach completely renews itself every 4 days! Unfortunately, chemotherapy hits the cells of the digestive tract just as hard as it hits the cancer cells. This is why chemotherapy medications so often produce nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite.
Seacure® strengthens the cells of the digestive tract so that they can handle the stress of being hit by chemotherapy medications without interfering with chemotherapy's effects on cancer cells.
Scientific research has found that when glutamine is given with chemotherapy or radiation, it not only protects the individual receiving the treatment from the side-effects of these therapies, it also increases the selectivity of the therapy for the tumor. Click here Scientific Reference if you would like the details of this research which was conducted in 1996.
So why not just supplement with glutamine instead of Seacure®?
The glutamine in Seacure® is better absorbed by the digestive tract than pure glutamine supplements. Why is this? Studies on human digestion have found that the digestive tract preferentially absorbs protein in the di-peptide (2 amino acids joined together) and tri-peptide (3 amino acids joined together) form.