Chemotherapy (chemo) is a type of treatment that includes a medication or combination of medications to treat cancer. The goal of chemo is to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. Chemo is considered a systemic therapy. This means it may affect your entire body. Chemo medications attack rapidly growing cancer cells, but they can also affect healthy cells that grow rapidly. The effect of these medications on normal cells often causes chemo side effects. For example:
- A number of blood cells that divide rapidly can be damaged along with cancer cells during chemo:
- White blood cells help protect the body from infection. A low white blood cell count is known as neutropenia. If your white blood cell count gets too low, you could get an infection.
- Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. A low red blood cell count is known as anemia. Anemia can lead to fatigue, chest pain, and more serious complications.
- Platelets are structures in the blood that help stop bleeding. A low platelet cell count is known as thrombocytopenia. A low platelet count can cause bruising and bleeding.
- Hair follicles have cells that can be affected by chemo, leading to hair loss, also called alopecia.
- Cells lining your stomach can also be affected by chemo. This can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and may be associated with nausea.
Next: How Chemo Works
The Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide can help you understand your
risk of infection
Infection can be a serious side effect of strong chemo. Find out the factors that affect your risk of infection. Simply answer a few questions, and then print your results to share with your doctor.
Use the Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide to find out more.
How Cells Divide and How Chemotherapy WorksWATCH VIDEO >