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Managing Side Effects

All medications can have side effects, but it is impossible to know if, or when, they will happen to you. It is the same with chemotherapy. No two people will react the same way. Even if you are receiving the same chemotherapy regimen as someone else, you may have a different experience with side effects.

There are over 50 medications being used in cancer chemotherapy today. Some have a few side effects, while others present major problems.

Side effects vary. Which side effects you may experience (if any), how strongly you react, when they may happen, and how long they last, will depend on both the type of medications you are taking and how often you take them. Some may happen right away; others may appear after a few days or weeks.

Ask your doctor and specialized oncology nurse which side effects you are likely to experience. They will tell you what you, together with your healthcare team, can do to prevent or manage these effects. They can also tell you which side effects you should report right away and which ones can wait until your next appointment.

Most people fear the side effects of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, extreme side effects are the ones that make news stories and are passed around by word of mouth. Keep in mind that fear and anxiety are not helpful. If you are feeling extremely anxious, consider asking for counselling, supportive care measures, or speak with your nurse or doctor about measures you can take to help you get through your treatment successfully.

Chemotherapy medications attack fast-growing cells. Because these medications travel throughout the entire body, it is impossible to kill the cancer cells without causing damage to fast-growing healthy cells as well. Damage to normal, healthy cells is the cause of side effects. Your healthy cells can recover and most side effects will gradually disappear when treatment is finished. Some may be permanent.

Find out more about some of the common side effects associated with chemotherapy, starting by clicking on the tabs on the left.

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