Your digestive system
The feeling of malaise, which is very often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, is a symptom associated with the action of certain chemotherapy drugs.
Many patients do not have these symptoms and not all drugs have these undesirable complications.
The symptoms of malaise may be prevented or alleviated and your doctor will see to this, as you will be given instructions to take steroids or anti-vomiting medication before and after the chemotherapy. You will also be given appropriate medication with relevant instructions to take at home as well, for a few days after the chemotherapy.
These symptoms usually appear within a few minutes and/or several hours after the chemotherapy and last for a few hours or, in rare cases, a few days.
Some chemotherapy drugs may cause diarrhoea, lack of appetite or
constipation. If you have any of these disorders, discuss the problem with your doctor.
Often, steroids are given together with the chemotherapy injection. The quantity of steroids are too small to cause any damage.
They often give a sense of well-being, while reducing malaise and the lack of appetite (see below). Some patients find that their appetite increases and they put on weight.
Useful nutrition advice
- Nausea and feeling of sickness. Avoid eating or preparing food.
- Avoid heavy or fried food and sauces.
- If the strong smell of cooked food makes you feel nauseous or sick, eat cold or slightly warmed food.
- Τρώτε κρύα ή ελαφρώς ζεστά φαγητά, εάν η έντονη µυρωδιά του µαγειρέµατος σας προκαλεί ναυτία ή εµετό.
- Eat several small meals throughout the day and chew your food well.
- Eat something light before the chemotherapy, but not immediately afterwards.
- Drink lots of fluids, sip by sip. Avoid drinking large quantities of fluids before the meals.
- If you have diarrhoea, avoid foods that contain fibres, fruits, vegetables and milk.
- Drink a lot of fluids, except juice, to make up for the fluids lost because of the diarrhoea.
- If you have constipation, eat more fibres, fruits and vegetables. Plum juice and hot drinks of ten help.
- To keep your mouth fresh and moist, eat small pieces of apple or pineapple.
Some drugs may cause mouth ulcers. The ulcers appear five to fifteen days after the administration of the drugs and disappear within three to four weeks. The ulcers may become infected, so your doctor will prescribe the appropriate treatment to prevent or fight the infection.
You may also experience changes in taste. Food may seem more salty or bitter or have a metal taste. Normal taste will come back once the chemotherapy stops.
Useful advice for mouth hygiene
- Clean your mouth and teeth with gentle movements daily, in the morning, noon and evening, using a soft toothbrush.
- Remove and clean your denture daily, in the morning, noon and evening as well as after every meal.
- If you feel that the toothpaste has a bad smell or if brushing your teeth makes you nauseous, try a mouthwash (such as a teaspoon of bicarbonate soda diluted in a cup of hot water).
- Keep your lips moist, using products containing Vaseline.
- Avoid alcohol, smoking, spices, onion, garlic, vinegar and salty foods as these may increase the abnormal perception of taste and harm your mouth.
- Keep your mouth moist. Add light sauces to your food to make swallowing easier and drink at least one and a half litre of fluids (coffee or tea, fruit or vegetable juice and soft drinks).
- Avoid sour juices, such as orange and grapefruit and opt for apple juice and cold herbal teas.
- Inform your doctor if you have ulcers in the mouth, in order to prevent or fight any infection.
Your hair and skin
Alopecia (hair loss) is one of the most well-known side effects of chemotherapy. Some drugs cause minimum hair loss or no hair loss at all. But some others cause partial or total hair loss for a period of time. Moreover, some treatments may destroy the hair, causing alopecia, one or two weeks after you start chemotherapy. If and to what extent your hair will fall depends on the type or combination of your drugs, the dose and the response of your own body.
If you are going to lose your hair, it will start falling a few weeks after you begin treatment, although occasionally it may start to fall in a few days. You may also lose hair in the rest of the body. Your hair will grow back as soon as the treatment finishes.
Useful advice for your hair and skin
- If you are likely to lose your hair from the drugs, you can cut it short before the chemotherapy. Long hair is heavier and therefore falls quicker.
- Use gentle hair products and avoid colour and perm.
- Use a children’s brush and brush your hair gently.
- Avoid hair dryers and rollers. Dry your hair with a towel with gentle movements, do not rub your hair.
- Make sure to look for a wig early, so that it resembles your hair as much as possible.
- When shaving use an electric razor to avoid cuts and scratches.
- If your skin is dry or itchy, use a moisturising cream.
- False nails and manicure can cover the white stripes that may appear on your nails.
- When you go out in the sun, wear high protection sunscreen.
In specific types of chemotherapy, some patients can protect their hair with a “cold cap”. The cold cap limits the flow and quantity of the drug going to the scalp. Unfortunately, it does not prevent the effect of all drugs. Consult your doctor before using the cold cap.
Some drugs may affect your skin, making it dry or slightly discoloured or cause itchiness. All of this can become worse with swimming, especially if there is chlorine in the water. You must inform your doctor if you have any rash. Your nails may grow at a slower rate and you may see white stripes on them.
Drugs can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Protect it with light clothing and sunscreen.
Chemotherapy can reduce the number of blood cells produced by the bone marrow. The bone marrow is a spongy material found inside the bones and contains blood cells, which usually develop into three different types.
The three types of cells produced by the bone marrow are:
- The white blood cells, which are necessary for fighting infections.
- The red blood cells, which contain haemoglobin to carry oxygen to the whole body.
- The platelets, which contribute to the coagulation of the blood and prevent haemorrhage.
White blood cells
If the number of white blood cells in the blood is reduced, there is a greater probability of infection, as they are not sufficient to fight microbes.
If your temperature is over 38°0 (Ι00.5°F) or you feel unwell, even though your temperature is normal, inform your doctor immediately.
As the white blood cells are the first line of defence against infections, their action against microbes must be aided with the administration of antibiotics. Your blood tests include a white blood cell count. If there are any changes in your temperature while your white blood cell count is low, you may need to be admitted as an inpatient to receive antibiotics either orally or intravenously.
ΑIn some cases, you may be treated with growth factors to increase the production of white blood cells. This treatment consists of proteins normally produced in the body, and which can now be produced in the laboratory
Sometimes, treatment with growth factors is administered after chemotherapy to stimulate the bone marrow to produce white blood cells at a faster rate. This may help decrease the risk of infections.
The white blood cell count is usually at its lowest from the 7th until the 14th day of the treatment, but this may vary according to the type of chemotherapy.
Red blood cells
If the number of red blood cells (haemoglobin) decreases, you will feel very exhausted. You may also experience shortness of breath as the quantity of oxygen transported throughout your body with the blood decreases. All these are symptoms of anaemia due to low haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is frequently checked with the blood tests you will be having during chemotherapy. Blood transfusion is necessary in case haemoglobin is too low. The right levels of haemoglobin in the blood carry oxygen to bodily tissues at a faster rate, making you feel more energetic and less short of breath.
Many people fear that transfusion may result in the infection of their blood. But this can only occur in extremely rare instances, as both the blood and blood donors are strictly checked.
If the platelet count is low, you will have bruises on your body, even with minor injuries, while you nose may often bleed or have haemorrhage even from small cuts. If you bruise or bleed very easily, you must be hospitalised to receive platelet transfusion, so let your doctor know immediately.
This type of transfusion is similar to blood transfusion, the difference being that the white blood cells and the haemoglobin have been removed. The platelets will immediately start to work, protecting you from bruising and bleeding. Platelets are checked when you do your blood tests.
Inform your doctor immediately if:
- You have fever (temperature of over 38°C or Ι00oF). You may need to receive antibiotics intravenously.
- You have bruising or bleeding during or after the chemotherapy.
Make sure your body and your environment are clean.
Protect yourself from injuries, e.g. wear gloves when doing gardening.