What side effects can I expect?

You won’t necessarily experience all the possible side effects. Side effects depend on what drugs are being used, on the dosage and on the patient’s state of health. The oncology team will discuss possible side effects with you, in accordance with your treatment regimen.

Are the side effects permanent?

No, the effects of chemotherapy disappear after the treatment has been completed. Possible side effects and hints on how to prevent or alleviate them:

  • Try to relax and focus your thoughts on something else.
  • Use positive visualising techniques: visualise how the anti-cancer drugs are moving throughout your body, finding and destroying each and every remaining cancer cell.
  • Drink more water on the day before and after treatment – this helps to remove toxic waste.
  • Avoid rich, fatty and spicy foods.
  • Have small amounts of food throughout the day rather than large meals.
  • Cold food and salads may be more digestible.
  • Nibble a biscuit or suck a glucose sweet before you get up in the morning.
  • Consult the oncology team for help if the nausea continues.
  • The condition is temporary – your hair will grow again, possibly even during the treatment phase. Initially the new hair might have a different texture.
  • Hair loss is often the first visible sign of your disease and brings it to the attention of others. Be prepared for this, and for the effect it might have on your appearance and self-image.
  • The oncology team will warn you if you can expect hair loss as a side effect of your treatment, so that you can decide beforehand how you want to cope with it. There are various options: you could wear a wig or head covering, or even shave off your hair all in one go.
  • Comb and brush the hair very gently, and not too often
  • Use a mild shampoo and gently dab the hair dry
  • Avoid hair dryers, curlers and curling tongs
  • Do not colour or perm your hair during treatment
  • Massage the scalp with a conditioner or hair stimulant
  • Avoid elastic bands, tight hair bands and clips
  • Experiment with different kinds of head coverings, scarves, caps and hats.
  • Wigs are available from special boutiques where qualified staff will assist you. The Cancer Association also has second-hand wigs available. Consult the list of useful information that your Reach for Recovery visitor gave you
  • Preferably select a wig before your hair starts falling out, to ensure that the wig matches your natural hair type and appearance.
  • When new hair starts growing, leave the wig off as much as possible when you are at home, until the hair is long enough.
Your hair will definitely grow again, even before the treatment has been completed, or 8-12 weeks after falling out. Within three months after new hair has started to grow, it should be long enough for a short hair style.
This may be caused by medication or emotional and social factors. When your sense of taste is affected, loss of appetite may follow.
  • A strange taste in the mouth, such as a bitter taste, metal taste or medicine taste.
  • Red meat and other food might have a strange taste
  • Familiar foods might have a strange taste, you might prefer new foods
  • Visit the dentist before treatment starts
  • Prevent dryness of the mouth – avoid eating dry foods
  • Stimulate your sense of taste with pleasant flavours
  • Avoid all contact with foods that you find distasteful
This may be caused by certain drugs. The oncology staff will warn you and prescribe treatment. The urine may by discoloured – this is not harmful.

How to prevent cystitis:

  • Drink more water
  • Inform the oncology team if you have of cystitis
  • Ask your doctor for an alkaliniser to control the acid level of urine.
This is a condition that causes inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth. Early signs are dryness and a burning sensation in the mouth. Symptoms start a few days after treatment and may last 7-10 days.

  • Rinse your mouth after each meal using a salt solution or a mouthwash that does not contain alcohol.
  • Maintain good mouth hygiene: use a soft toothbrush. Visit your dentist beforehand to rule out mouth infections.
  • Drink lots of fluids
  • Avoid acid, spicy foods; avoid alcoholic beverages
  • Soft foods with a fine texture can be chewed and swallowed more easily
  • You may find ice cream and iced drinks soothing
  • Have yoghurt regularly to restore the natural flora in the digestive system
  • Inform the oncology team if the condition becomes worse.
Hints for coping with constipation

  • Eat more unrefined foods: raw vegetables and fruit, dried fruit, brown rice, whole wheat bread
  • Drink more fluids, particularly warm drinks – this stimulates bowel activity
  • Respond immediately when you have the urge for bowel movement, make a habit of going at set times.
  • Use purgatives as little as possible, and then only as prescribed
  • Inform the oncology team if you have problems with constipation
Some drugs used in chemotherapy cause diarrhoea. The staff will inform you in advance.

Hints for coping with diarrhoea

  • Inform the oncology team. Diarrhoea can be controlled with medication

Keep the area around the rectum clean. Vaseline is good for protecting the

  • Eat more foods low in fibre but high in nutritional value (protein and calories).
  • Eat smaller portions more often
  • Avoid gas-producing foods: cabbage, broccoli, onions, cauliflower
  • Avoid strongly spicy foods and caffeine
  • Avoid very hot or very cold food
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine (cigarettes)
Chemotherapy does not affect the skin directly, but faint marks may occur where drugs have been administered intravenously. These marks will disappear eventually.

  • Protect your skin against the harmful rays of the sun, particularly when the UV-factor is high.
  • Care for the skin by using bath oils or moisturising creams
  • Treat cuts and abrasions with a disinfectant to prevent infection – particularly after a mastectomy with removal of the lymph nodes,
  • Lymph drainage is important if swelling of the arms and fingers occurs. Consult the oncology team and also refer to the pamphlet on Lymphoedema
Various factors may cause weight loss during chemotherapy. The disease uses energy and the body’s metabolism is affected. The patient may tend to eat less owing to anxiety and stress. The appetite may suppressed as a side effect of the drugs. It is therefore extremely important to eat a well-balanced diet. If you want to follow an alternative diet therapy, consult your doctor to ensure that it does not interfere with the medication you are using. Consult the pamphlet on Diet and Healthy Lifestyle.

Radiation – Side effects

  • Soap will dry out the skin. Wash with a lukewarm solution of water and baking soda and gently pat the skin dry. Do not scratch. If your skin is very dry, consult the medical team. They will prescribe the appropriate treatment.
  • Do not use any cream or ointments on the treated area, unless prescribed by the medical team.
  • Wear a soft, comfortable cotton bra or top with built-in support. If you are more comfortable without a bra, even better. Avoid clothing that chafes or scratches
  • Don not shave under the affected arm, to prevent further skin irritations or cuts. Do no use any deodorants. The area can be dusted with maizena.
  • If you swim regularly, consult the medical team about skin care.