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The side effects that you experience from chemotherapy will depend on two things; what drugs you are given and your own individual “biology.” Different drugs will have a different set of side effects associated with them, and you should ask your physician what to expect from your particular regimen. But keep this in mind: even for the same drugs, different people react differently and the better your overall health before treatment, the more easily you’ll weather the side effects of chemotherapy.

Most of the acute side effects (those that occur within a few days of treatment) are related to the fact that the same drugs that will kill cancer cells will also kill or injure other cells in the body that are rapidly dividing. Because the drugs enter the bloodstream, they reach not only the tumor they are intended to destroy but healthy tissues as well. Side effects occur when health issues are injured, and they resolve when those tissues recover. How long the side effect will last and how quickly you will recover depends in part on the healthy tissue involved, and how quickly those cells injured by chemotherapy can replace themselves. Because replacement of healthy tissues will limit the length and severity of side effects, it’s particularly important for you as a cancer patient to maintain good nutrition even when you don’t feel well. Without proper nutrients available, it’s harder for the body to repair itself.

Many of the side effects of chemotherapy can be managed by other medications, but some will require you to adjust both your way of thinking about yourself and your illness and the way you go about your daily activities. Your physician can assist with suggestions about non-medical management of your symptoms as well as providing medication to help you manage your side effects when appropriate. For this reason, it’s important that you keep your physician apprised of how you are faring in the course of treatment. Don’t let side effects become serious before you bring them to your physician’s attention.

Support groups can be helpful in giving you practical suggestions about how other patients have handled similar problems, and if they are available through your local hospital or cancer society, it’s a good idea to make contact. Just remember: everyone has a different experience. Yours may be easier—or harder—than the others in the group. Use information that is helpful to you in managing your illness, but don’t fall into the trap of judging your progress by that of other patients.

The Internet also provides a wealth of information about specific therapies, side effects and suggestions for managing them. Don’t be afraid to surf the web in search of helpful information, but remember that the information on the Internet is like that from support groups: it’s only generally applicable and may or may not assist you. If it helps, great, but if not, ask your physician for more help until you are able to manage your side effects comfortably. The goal of therapy is to provide treatment adequate to eliminate your cancer without causing you so much distress that you must interrupt treatment. The sooner you let your physician know that you are having problems, the better he or she will be able to keep you comfortable enough to continue treatment despite the unpleasant, and transient, side effects that always come along with treatment.

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