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The side effects of
chemotherapy, sometimes called chemo, depend mainly on the medicines you
receive. As with other types of treatment, side effects vary from person to
In general, chemotherapy affects rapidly growing and dividing cells.
These include blood cells, which fight infection, cause the blood to clot, and
carry oxygen to all parts of the body. When blood cells are affected by
chemo, you are more likely to get infections and bruise or bleed easily. And you are likely to have less energy during treatment and for some time afterward.
Hair cells and cells that line the digestive tract also divide
rapidly. After treatment with chemotherapy, you may lose your hair and have
other side effects, such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or
Many side effects caused by chemotherapy, such as nausea and
vomiting, can now be controlled. Your doctor can prescribe
medicines to manage nausea and vomiting. Side effects
generally are short-term problems. They gradually go away during the recovery
part of the chemo cycle or after the treatment is over.
Fatigue is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Some people notice
that they feel a little more tired than usual, and other people feel completely
out of energy. After treatment is finished, this fatigue goes away over
Chemotherapy can damage your nervous system. You may notice tingling or a lack of feeling in your hands or feet, or shaking or trembling. These problems usually get better after treatment.
Some people have a mild decline in the ability to think, learn,
reason, and remember (cognitive function) during the first years after some
types of chemotherapy. This is often called chemo brain. Cognitive function can take a few years to return to
With modern chemotherapy, long-term side effects are rare. But there
have been cases in which the heart is damaged and second cancers such as
leukemia have developed.
Some chemotherapy can damage the ovaries. If the ovaries fail to
produce hormones, you may have symptoms of
menopause, such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
Your periods may become irregular or may stop. And you may not be able to
But some women are still able to become pregnant during treatment.
Because some chemo medicines cause birth defects and the effects of
other chemo drugs on a fetus are not known, it is important to talk to
your doctor about birth control before your treatment begins. After treatment,
some women regain their ability to become pregnant. But for most women older
than age 35, infertility is likely to be permanent.
Chemotherapy for testicular cancer has been linked to long-term side
infertility, hearing loss, reduced lung function, and an increased risk for secondary leukemia.1
Most men diagnosed
with testicular cancer are younger than 35. So men who are going to have chemo may decide to bank their sperm ahead of time if they want to father children in the future. Talk to your doctor about any fertility concerns you may have.
For a short time after chemo, some men may have problems getting erections, and some may have less desire for sex.
Some chemotherapy drugs can cause birth defects, so it is important
to talk to your doctor about birth control before your treatment begins.
National Cancer Institute (2012). Testicular Cancer Treatment (PDQ)—Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/testicular/HealthProfessional.
Current as of:
June 28, 2013
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Ross Berkowitz, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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