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Side Effects

Many types of chemotherapy drugs not only damage the cancer cells but can also damage some of your normal cells. This can create side effects. Side effects will vary between chemotherapy treatments. Your doctor will review a list of possible side effects for your treatment type. Some side effects of chemotherapy include:
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Appetite loss
  • Hair loss
  • Low red blood cell count — anemia
  • Weakened immune system and increased infections
  • Fatigue
  • Easy bruising and/or bleeding
  • Mouth sores
  • Numbness and tingling sensation in the hands and/or feet, or weakness due to nerve damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Damage to the heart muscle
  • Infertility
  • Interruption of the menstrual period
You and your doctor will talk about options to help relieve some of these side effects.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

You may be asked to take some pre-medications such as:
  • Steroids
  • Allergy medications, such as an anti-histamine
  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Sedatives
  • Antibiotics

Description of the Procedure

Your doctor will talk to you about the best way to deliver the medication(s). Chemotherapy drugs may be given by:
  • Mouth
  • Injection into a muscle or vein (IV)
  • Catheter tube into the bladder, abdomen, chest cavity, brain, spinal cord, or liver
  • Application to the skin
Chemotherapy Through Cardiovascular System
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How Long Will It Take?

How long it will take depends on the method used, the number of medications, and the amount of each medication. A session may be as brief as the time it takes to swallow a pill. It could also take several hours or last overnight. Some types of chemotherapy can be given as a continuous infusion through a portable pump.

Will It Hurt?

The treatment may cause a number of uncomfortable side effects. The delivery of the chemotherapy usually does not hurt.

Average Hospital Stay

Most often, you can leave after the medication is delivered. Some chemotherapy treatments will require a stay in the hospital. This may be about 2-3 days.
Your doctor may choose to keep you in the hospital if you have complications, such as severe vomiting.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital
You may be given any of the following:
  • Medications to take at home, such as anti-nausea medication
  • Injections of an immune-system or blood cell boosting drug
  • Other drugs, including steroids, allergy medications, sedatives, and antibiotics
At Home
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
Your doctor may order any of the following tests to check the progress of your treatment:


American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute



Canadian Cancer Society

Cancer Care Ontario



Chemotherapy and you. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: Accessed September 11, 2014.

Understanding chemotherapy. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated August 2008. Accessed September 11, 2014.

10/26/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance Adamsen L, Quist M, Andersen C, et al. Effect of a multimodal high intensity exercise intervention in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy: randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2009;339:b3410.


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