Alopecia means hair loss. Chemotherapy may cause you to lose your hair. Hair tends to fall out approximately three weeks after the start of treatment and tends to fall out in patches. Some people choose to cut their hair short before treatment or shave their head, rather than wait for the process to occur. Fortunately, hair loss is temporary. Your hair usually starts to grow back about 6-8 weeks after you have completed treatment. It may grow back with a different color or texture.
If you choose to wear a wig, select one that matches your natural hair color and style. Once you get a wig, bring it to your hair stylist to help you style it naturally. Other options for hair loss include wearing scarves, hats or remaining bald. Whatever feels comfortable for you is right.
Anemia occurs when the body experiences a decreased number of red blood cells. Shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness are all symptoms of anemia. A transfusion of red blood cells can relieve these symptoms until the bone marrow recovers. Medications can also be given to stimulate the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells.
Many things can cause constipation including chemotherapy, anti-nausea drugs, pain medication, or a reduced activity level. You may need to take stool softeners or laxatives during your treatment. Eating a diet high in fiber and drinking plenty of fluids helps decrease constipation. Let your doctor or nurse know if you have not had a bowel movement in three days.
Fatigue is a common side effect of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Your body cells are working hard to destroy the cancer, using a lot of energy to do so. You may feel more tired by the end of your second to third week of treatment. Fatigue will lessen over time after you have completed treatment.
Some ways to maintain energy are to eat a balanced diet, take a daily vitamin, do light exercise (such as walking two to three times per week), take short naps during the day, and get a good night's sleep. If fatigue becomes extreme, plan periods of activity alternating with rest, and seek help with daily activities such as cooking and cleaning.
Cancer treatment can affect fertility, meaning it can decrease your ability to become a parent. These effects, if they occur, can be temporary or permanent. The severity of the effects on fertility depends on the type of treatment and dose of treatment. There are many options to preserve fertility including sperm banking, egg banking, or embryo freezing. Ask your doctor for more information if maintaining your fertility is important to you.
You may experience nausea or vomiting during chemotherapy treatment. There are medicines that help reduce or eliminate these symptoms. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you are experiencing nausea or vomiting. It is important to remember to take any anti-nausea medication that your doctor prescribes. You can minimize nausea and vomiting by making changes in your diet as well.
On treatment days, it may help to eat small meals of easily digested foods. It is important to stay hydrated and to have a variety of clear liquids (broth, juice, water, water ice, chamomile tea, ginger ale) to sip on throughout the day. Eating simple foods such as crackers, toast, dry cereal and pretzels may also help. If you continue to have nausea and vomiting, notify your doctor or nurse. If you experience weight loss, a registered dietitian can provide nutritional counseling.
Neutropenia is a decrease in the number of white blood cells. When there are too few of these white blood cells, you are at increased risk for getting infections. Your doctor can prescribe drugs to help treat infection. Medicines may be given after your chemotherapy to decrease neutropenia and to stimulate the bone marrow to make more white blood cells. If you develop a fever of 100.4 F or higher, notify your doctor or other health care professional immediately.
Peripheral neuropathy is numbness or tingling in your hands and feet. This may happen after you receive certain chemotherapy drugs. This usually goes away after you have completed your treatments. There are medications that can be prescribed to lessen these symptoms if they become bothersome.
Certain chemotherapy drugs are known to cause a skin reaction known as radiation recall. This reaction is similar to the skin irritations caused by radiation therapy and can be treated the same way.
Skin can become irritated at the site where radiation therapy is delivered. The affected area can become red and dry. If these symptoms appear, ask your doctor or nurse what you can put on your skin as some creams and powders interfere with radiation.
When cleaning the area of skin affected by treatment, wash gently with water and pat dry. Try to wear light, loose fitting clothing during treatments. Avoid perfumes, deodorants, or powders in the area being treated. Skin affected by radiation therapy will be more sensitive to the sun. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to protect your skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays. Skin changes begin to resolve within a few weeks after you have completed therapy.
Thrombocytopenia is a decrease in the number of platelets in the blood. Having a low number of platelets increases your risk for bruising and bleeding. A transfusion of platelets can protect the body until the bone marrow starts producing platelets again.