Uterine Cancer Chemotherapy

While uterine cancer has devastating effects on the body, unfortunately, so too do the treatments associated with it. Because cancer is a condition in which cells in the body start and continue to grow abnormally, treatments for any type of cancer revolve around killing and stopping this abnormal growth.

Although such treatments can be highly effective in putting cancer into remission, they do also destroy healthy, normal cells. The obvious downside is that such treatments can create unfortunate physical side effects.

One such commonly used treatment is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy refers to the process of administering chemicals and/or drugs in pill or injection form to cancer patients to stop the growth and spread of malignant cells. Because chemotherapy is destructive to normal cells, we will outline some methods of coping with it.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Here is a list of the common side effects associated with chemotherapy, as well as suggestions for how to cope with each:

  • anemia: Chemotherapy reduces the amount of red blood cells your body can produce, thereby limiting the amount of oxygen that is transported throughout your body. Along with regularly performing a blood cell count during your chemo treatments, your doctor may also prescribe medication (erythropoietin) or order you to receive a blood transfusion.
  • blood clotting: Chemotherapy disrupts the bodys ability to produce blood platelets that are necessary to proper clotting. This means that chemotherapy patients tend to bruise easily, bleed for longer periods of time (including during a womans menstrual cycle) and may have bloody stool and/or urine. Because doctors perform regular blood tests during your course of chemo, he will be able to quickly note if your platelets are too low and order an immediate blood transfusion, if necessary.
  • fatigue: As the most common side effect of chemotherapy, fatigue stems from a variety of factors, including anemia, emotional stress and the uterine cancer itself. To deal with your fatigue, plan out your day to include a series of rests and/or naps. Similarly, eat a healthy diet (with minimal or no caffeine and alcohol) and do light exercise (such as walking) to boost your energy.
  • hair loss: Technically known as alopecia, hair loss all over the body is another common symptom of chemotherapy. Although the only way to prevent losing your hair is to stop chemotherapy (which shouldnt be done until you have completed the full course), you can use milder hair products and avoid curling or straightening your hair to prevent further damage. Some chemotherapy patients choose to shave their heads, wear wigs or sport turbans through the term of the treatment. If the thought of losing your hair for a period of time is upsetting, keep in mind that this side effect is only a temporary sacrifice.
  • infection: Because chemotherapy affects your bodys ability to produce blood cells, both red and white, you are at a greater risk of coming down with an infection while on chemotherapy. As a result, take steps to prevent getting an infection and putting your health at an even greater risk. Some tips for preventing infection include frequently washing your hands, maintaining good oral hygiene and avoiding contact with people who are ill.
  • nausea: Although nausea is a common side effect of chemotherapy, new anti-nausea drugs have minimized patients nausea. Along with taking these medications, you can also minimize your nausea by eating slowly, eating only small amounts of food at a time, practicing breathing techniques and avoiding unpleasant odors. Some doctors may even prescribe marijuana, as it has been shown to reduce the feelings of nausea and pain in some patients. However, this treatment method is highly controversial in political, medical and ethical circles.
  • nerve damage: Chemotherapy temporarily destroys nerve tissue, which can cause you to experience tingling or numbness throughout your body, especially in your hands and feet. While this side effect of chemotherapy is generally mild and easy to cope with, you can take pain medication to treat this sensation.
  • pain: Because chemotherapy causes nerve damage, some patients experience burning, tingling and sharp pain in their hands and feet. Some also suffer from headaches, upset stomachs and muscle aches. As soon as you start to experience pain, talk to your doctor immediately. Be specific about the type and intensity of your pain, as well as the areas and frequency of it so your doctor can prescribe you the right medicine.

Milder, Less Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Because there are different courses of chemotherapy, individuals may experience some of the following side effects that are milder:

  • acne
  • brittle, cracked nails
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • dry, itchy skin
  • mouth dryness or sores.

Over-the-counter treatments are generally sufficient to treat these mild side effects of chemotherapy.

Do Side Effects Go Away?

In general, the side effects of chemotherapy will disappear soon after this treatment has stopped and cells have a chance to grow normally. Simply stated, there are typically no long-term side effects from chemotherapy. Keep in mind, however, that the length of time it takes for normal cell regeneration to restart depends on the type of chemotherapy you endured.

In rare cases, some patients may suffer permanent damage to their:

  • hearts
  • kidneys
  • lungs
  • nerves
  • reproductive organs.

Another possibility is that chemotherapy may set your cancer into remission (meaning that it has stopped or significantly decreased abnormal cell growth) for only a short period of time. This means that you could develop a second cancer years down the line in an entirely new area of your body. Your doctor can be more specific about the likelihood of this possibility in your individual case.

As you muddle through your chemotherapy treatments, remember that though it may have some harmful side effects, it is currently one of the best treatment options we have in the fight against cancer.

Resources

National Cancer Institute (2007). Chemotherapy and You. Retrieved June 21, 2007 from: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/chemotherapy-and-you/page4.