Partner in the fight against cancer since 1998

Partner in the fight against cancer since 1998




What are the side effects of chemotherapy? How can unwanted effects be avoided?

The ideal medicine is described by researchers as having three main characteristics: it is effective, safe and has almost no side effects at all.


There is no need to comment on the first characteristic, because if there is a need for a new product that can cure a disease more effectively than existing therapies, it is certainly useful.


By safety, we (also) mean good dosability, since if a medicine can be used over a relatively wide therapeutic range, it is not easy to under- or overdose.


The third characteristic is the presence or absence of side effects. This is an important factor in "tolerating" a therapy, as it can prevent us from focusing on our recovery if unwanted side effects occur that significantly affect our daily lives.


As the list of available chemotherapeutic products grows, so does the number of side effects.


We have highlighted some of them below, with a look at the options available to reduce their side effects.

Certain chemotherapy drugs can cause anaemia, which can make you feel tired and fatigued. If professional protocol allows, your doctor may prescribe a medicine that helps to produce red blood cells, but you can also contribute (tot he matter) by changing your lifestyle.


If we can, we should sleep at least 8 hours a day, but preferably only shorter periods in bed (less than 1 hour) during the day. Consume foods that are high in protein (meat, eggs) eat high iron meats (red meats) and vegetables (spinach), cooked beans can also be a good choice. Also drink plenty of water and juices!


Cytostatic drugs can destroy not only blood-forming cells, but also platelets that play an important role in blood clotting, which can lead to serious bleeding.


It is therefore important to protect yourself from potential damage. Men should use an electric razor, not the traditional one. Avoid using scissors, knives and other sharp objects. Blow your nose gently and brush your teeth with the softest bristles/toothbrush possible. Don't scratch any pimples or sores/wounds.


IMPORTANT! If you notice changes such as headaches, feeling confused or very sleepy, be sure to tell your doctor! Black or bloody stools may also be a warning sign, or discoloration of the urine (pink, red) may also indicate bleeding.


Many chemotherapy drugs affect our appetite, making certain foods taste different.

Try to eat fewer but more frequent meals (5-6 times a day) instead of 3 main meals. Try new flavours, eat with family and friends, or eat while watching TV. If you get a metallic taste in your mouth when eating, replace the spoon with a plastic one. It's worth keeping a record of how much you eat and drink so you can discuss it with your doctor at your next visit. Eat a varied diet, including cream soups, chicken, eggs, fish, ice cream, custard, yoghurt, butter and/or cheese.


If it is two days between bowel movements, be sure to tell your doctor, but it is also important to report if you need to go to the toilet more than once a day. Again, try to switch from 3 main meals a day to more frequent, but smaller meals! In the case of diarrhoea, avoid spicy, dairy foods, as well as raw vegetables and fruit! In the case of constipation, include more vegetables, fruit, seeds and wholemeal flour pastries in your diet.


Hair loss due to chemotherapy takes 10-16 days to develop and is only temporary. Hair grows back almost 100% of the time after treatments are stopped and the hair is usually thicker and curlier than before. Sometimes, however, the new hair may be a different colour to the original, sometimes grey.


Only in exceptional cases will the treatment lead to permanent baldness or thinning of the hair. In addition to hair loss, temporary loss of other body hair may also occur.


After starting treatment, avoid heavy combing, brushing, blow-drying or curling. However, it is advisable to wash the hair every 3 to 5 days, using a gentler shampoo with a high protein content and less drying effect. The head needs extra protection from strong sunlight in summer and from the cold in winter.


One side effect of chemotherapy is that it can make you more susceptible to certain viral, bacterial and fungal infections. It is therefore particularly important to tell your doctor if you have persistent chills, headaches and/or earaches, fever, white patches on the tongue or in the mouth, opalescent or bloody urine, pain or burning sensations when you urinate.

If possible, pay even more attention to hygiene (hand washing, brushing teeth). If possible, stay away from infected people (whether with flu or other infectious diseases). Be sure to discuss with your doctor whether he or she recommends vaccination (e.g. flu, meningitis vaccine, etc.).

The effects of chemotherapeutic drugs can also damage the genital organs and their functions, depending on the type of drug/medicine, the age of the patient, his/her general health and to a varying extent from one individual to another.


In men, chemotherapy/ chemotherapeutic drugs can reduce the amount and motility of sperm produced in the testes and can also cause various abnormalities. This can lead to a temporary or permanent loss of fertility, without significantly affecting sexual activity or the ability to have intercourse.

The drugs can cause damage to sperm such that fertilisation with such sperm can result in severe malformations in the foetus. It is therefore important that, during and for at least two years after treatment, the patient uses a condom and his or her sexual partner uses contraceptives or other means to prevent pregnancy.


After a two-year treatment-free period, they can attempt to have children, but it is advisable to seek genetic counselling before doing so.

In female patients, chemotherapy treatment can damage the ovaries and reduce hormone production. Menstrual cycles may become irregular or menstruation may not occur at all. While it is possible to become pregnant during chemotherapy treatment, this is not desirable under any circumstances, and not even for some time afterwards.


It is recommended to wait at least two years without treatment, as anticancer drugs can cause congenital malformations.