Long-term side effects of chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is the most common form of cancer treatment. It uses aggressive drugs to slow the growth of cancer cells.
You may already be familiar with the short-term side effects of chemotherapy, such as hair loss and nausea.
Long-term side effects – also called “late effects” – are less well known. They usually appear after the end of chemotherapy. The late effects of chemotherapy vary depending on the individual, the type of cancer and the type of chemotherapy used.
This article reviews the potential long-term effects of chemotherapy.
One of the short and long term side effects of chemotherapy is mental confusion, often referred to as “chemo-brain”. This includes problems with memory, concentration, and multitasking. In some cases, these cognitive challenges persist for several years after the end of treatment.
It is not known exactly how chemotherapy affects cognition. A
You may be able to alleviate cognitive difficulties by eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising your brain.
Some chemotherapy drugs can cause long-term hearing loss. These include carboplatin and cisplatin.
If you are having chemotherapy with carboplatin or cisplatin, talk to your doctor about the risks to your hearing.
Chemotherapy can cause high blood pressure and heart disease, including:
The risk of developing a heart problem after chemotherapy is higher for people over 65 and those who have received higher doses of certain drugs.
Chemotherapy drugs that damage the heart and problems with the circulatory system include:
If any of these medicines are prescribed for you, your healthcare team will carefully monitor your heart and circulatory function before, during and after treatment. If there is a problem, your doctor may change your dose, prescribe protective medication, or stop treatment altogether.
Chemotherapy has been associated with a slight increased risk of blood cancer.
A 2017 study of over 92,000 people who received chemotherapy, those who received anthracycline with or without taxane had a slightly increased risk of developing leukemia or myelodysplasia within 7 years of treatment.
More research needs to be done to understand why these cancers grow and whether or not they can be prevented. Your doctor will help you weigh the risks and benefits of your treatment.
Chemotherapy drugs, including bleomycin, carmustine, mitomycin, and methotrexate, have been associated with lung conditions such as lung disease. Lung disease causes symptoms such as chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and fatigue.
It may not be possible to prevent lung damage from chemotherapy, but you can take care of your lungs by exercising regularly, avoiding lung irritants, and quitting smoking. If you have pulmonary symptoms such as shortness of breath, talk to your doctor.
A number of chemotherapy drugs can damage the nervous system. These include docetaxel, paclitaxel, and vinorelbine, among others.
Neuropathic pain is a common symptom of nerve damage. This condition causes numbness, burning, or tingling in the limbs, hands, and feet. This pain is more likely to persist if you have other medical conditions that put you at risk, such as diabetes.
Although there is no known way to prevent it completely, you may be able to relieve the pain by adopting a healthy lifestyle, taking your medications as prescribed, and wearing loose hands and shoes.
Chemotherapy drugs can thin and weaken bones. This condition is called osteoporosis. It is more likely to occur in postmenopausal women because menopause is also associated with loss of bone density.
Osteoporosis puts you at increased risk for broken bone. To reduce the risk, your doctor may suggest that you increase your dietary calcium intake, take a calcium supplement, or take medications to improve bone strength.
Chemotherapy drugs can affect your hormones, your sex life, and your reproductive system. In women, it can increase your susceptibility to infections or trigger early menopause. Men can suffer from erectile dysfunction.
A number of chemotherapy drugs, such as alkylating agents, can cause infertility. Infertility may go away after treatment, but in some cases it can be permanent. Whether or not you get this side effect depends on your general health, your age, and the type and dose of chemotherapy you are receiving.
Your doctor will make sure that you are aware of the risks associated with the treatment. If having children is a problem, they might suggest freezing your eggs or sperm bank before you start treatment. A fertility specialist can help you explore your options.
The side effects of chemotherapy can last for months and sometimes years. It depends on your general health and the type of chemotherapy you are receiving for treatment.
Some complications of chemotherapy are permanent. These can include damage to your respiratory, circulatory, sensory, excretory, and reproductive systems.
Before receiving chemotherapy, ask your doctor or oncologist about the likelihood of long-term or permanent side effects.
Chemotherapy can cause a number of late side effects. These can start during treatment and continue after completion. In other cases, they appear for the first time after the end of chemotherapy.
Side effects can vary depending on your condition, the type of cancer you have, and other treatments you are receiving.
If you are undergoing chemotherapy, talk to your healthcare team about potential side effects.