Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that reaches virtually every part of the body. It kills cancer cells and disrupts their division cycle, but it can also affect the growth of normal cells and cause side effects. One of the best-known examples is hair loss; as the growth of hair follicles (the cells that produce hair) are affected by the substances present in chemotherapy.
There are many other possible side effects, although this does not mean that every person will experience them; every cancer patient reacts differently. Fortunately, today most treatments are well tolerated. Below are some recommendations for alleviating some of the main side effects:
Take short 15-minute naps, stay active by walking or by doing things when you feel the most energetic; and drink fluids such as water (8 or 10 glasses).
- Nausea or vomiting:
Take anti-nausea medication prescribed by a healthcare professional. Avoid drinks that contain caffeine or are carbonated; eat food in small quantities and more frequently; to promote digestion, prioritise foods that are simply cooked (e.g. grilled, microwaved or steamed) rather than greasy foods, such as pastries or fried foods; and drink liquids at room temperature in small sips. Avoid lying down for an hour after meals.
- Mucositis/mouth sores:
Maintain correct oral hygiene with thyme or bicarbonate rinses after each meal; use a soft toothbrush and alcohol-free mouthwash.
Modify the texture of the diet; for example, do not eat the crusts from bread or toast and eat breadcrumbs or sliced bread. Avoid “dry” foods, such as a steak and prioritise white fish or meat with a mild sauce. Eat creams, purees, soups and omelettes and avoid acidic, spicy or very hot foods.
Eat foods containing fibre, such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains, orange juice with pulp or coffee on an empty stomach; and drink plenty of fluids. Go walking or do light exercise, such as gentle yoga. If the symptoms persist, you should see a health professional to see if it is appropriate to take any medication.
Drink water or oral rehydration salts. See a health professional to see if it is appropriate to take any medication. Avoid spicy foods, foods high in fibre or fat, caffeine and eat astringent foods, such as boiled rice, pasta, white bread or bananas.
- A weakened immune system:
People undergoing chemotherapy may have a decrease in the white blood cells (neutrophils) responsible for fighting infections and so may be more vulnerable. You should therefore keep your distance from people who have an infectious disease, wash your hands frequently and eat a healthy and balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, to strengthen your immune system.
- Hair loss:
Not all chemotherapy treatment leads to hair loss. The loss may be slight or complete; in both cases it usually occurs between the second and third week of the first chemotherapy treatment. To control hair loss, you should wash your hair with a mild shampoo, use a comb instead of a brush, avoid blow-drying, not expose the scalp to the sun and try covering your head with a scarf or even a wig to keep it warm. If you want, you can cut your hair somewhat shorter or shave your head, depending on the degree of loss.
- Sensitivity to cold, tingling or cramps in the hands or feet:
In this case, you should avoid cold food or drinks. Wrap up warm in cold weather and protect your extremities by wearing thick gloves and socks.
INFORMATION DOCUMENTED BY:
Dr. Laura Ferrer, oncologist at Hospital Clínic and member of the translational genomics and targeted therapies in solid tumors research group at IDIBAPS.