When should a patient receiving chemotherapy seek urgent medical attention?

The patient should seek medical attention immediately if they experience the following symptoms:

  • Fever (temperature > 37.8ºC);
  • Red spots or patches on the body;
  • Pain or burning sensation when urinating;
  • Bleeding that takes time to stop;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Severe diarrhea and/or vomiting;
  • Swelling of the legs, especially when it’s greater on one of the legs;

In general, if the patient experiences any other changes that after starting treatment that are cause for concern, he/she should consult his/her doctor.

Does the patient receiving chemotherapy need to change their daily routine?

The possible side effects of chemotherapy may determine the need for the patient to adopt some measures that, together with the other medications administered, will reduce the probability of occurrence of these side effects, their intensity and/or their duration.

For example, chemotherapy can cause marked neutropenia in some cases. When this risk exists, the patient may need to be cautious, through some simple changes, such as:

  • Eat healthy and safe food;
  • Avoid closed and crowded environments;
  • Avoid eating raw foods;
  • Be careful when shaving not to cut yourself, using an electric shaver if possible;
  • Avoid removing cuticles and waxing.

These precautions are aimed at reducing the risk of contracting infections during periods when the body’s defenses may be weakened. To find out if the chemotherapy you are receiving causes neutropenia and if you need to take these precautions, talk to your doctor.

If a person receives chemotherapy and does not have as many side effects, does that mean the treatment is not working?

No. Each organism is unique and reacts differently to chemotherapy. Some people may experience adverse reactions from chemotherapy, while others may not, regardless of the effect the treatment is having on the tumor. Only the physician responsible for monitoring the patient will be able to determine whether the treatment is effective or not, based on physical, imaging and/or laboratory examinations.

Can chemotherapy lead to weight gain?

This is a frequently asked question among women with breast cancer. The medication itself does not make you gain weight, but several factors from the treatment can contribute to weight gain. Among them are following:

• Reduction of physical activity with maintenance of caloric intake;
• Possible cessation of menstruation during chemotherapy, which indicates hormonal change;
• Anxiety and emotional stress;
Use of medications associated with chemotherapy, such as corticosteroids.

With regard to other types of cancer, in general, the patient may lose a little weight during chemotherapy, due to decreased appetite and, eventually, nausea and vomiting.

What are the main side effects of chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy side effects vary depending on a number of factors, including:

  • Drug(s) used;
  • Dosage of the drug(s) used;
  • Duration of the treatment cycle;
  • Type of cancer;
  • General condition of the patient;
  • Existence of other diseases associated with cancer.

Thus, a patient may experience one or more side effects, with varying intensity being observed from person to person.

The side effects of chemotherapy usually occur due to the action of these drugs on the cell division process. Therefore, in addition to tumor cells, normal cells undergoing cell division are also affected, making body tissues with a high rate of cell division, such as bone marrow and mucous membranes, more susceptible to the action of chemotherapy.

Possible side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Weakness;
  • Mucositis;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Weight loss or gain;
  • Alopecia (hair loss);
  • Nail changes;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Neutropenia, anemia and thrombocytopenia;
  • Tingling of the feet and hands.

In general, the side effects of chemotherapy gradually decrease after the end of treatment, until they disappear completely. Thus, it is common for nails to return to normal and hair to grow back.

However, some side effects can become permanent, such as the cessation of menstruation in certain cases of chemotherapy for breast cancer.

To know more about the possible side effects applied to your individual condition, talk to your doctor.

How is chemotherapy given?

Chemotherapy can be given alone or in combination with other forms of cancer treatment, such as molecular target drugs, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. The combination of chemotherapy with other therapeutic alternatives can be concomitant, neoadjuvant or adjuvant.
Chemotherapeutics can be administered through the following routes, depending on the drug:

• Oral;
• Intravenous;
• Intramuscular;
• Subcutaneous;
• Intrathecal, through the backbone;
• Topic

Chemotherapy may involve administration of a single drug (monotherapy). However, as chemotherapeutics have different mechanisms of action, chemotherapy can also be performed through the administration of more than one type of medication, usually belonging to different classes of chemotherapeutics, combined in a predetermined regimen of treatment. In addition, chemotherapy is usually given according to a pre-established course of treatment, regardless of whether one drug or more is used. The duration of treatment varies, depending on the disease and the drugs used.
Along with chemotherapy, skilled nursing professionals may also administer serum and medications that help lessen the side its effects.

What type of food should be avoided during cancer treatment?

The patient should avoid acidic foods such as alcohol, pineapple, coffee and soft drinks; but they are not necessarily prohibited. This recommendation aims to prevent the appearance of mouth sores.