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A Timeline for Chemotherapy: Understanding the Side Effects and More

Cancer is a serious disease that takes many forms and affects people of all ages and all walks of life.

Through chemotherapy, many patients get the treatment they need to continue living their lives. In fact, many patients may end up completely cancer-free.

If you have questions such as, “how long does chemotherapy take?” and other inquiries, read on to learn more about some common side effects and what to expect.

The Basics of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses a series of drugs designed to target cancer in the body. Depending on the type of cancer you have and other factors, your doctor or oncologist will recommend chemotherapy treatment.

The purpose of using this treatment is to either cure cancer, shrink the tumor to make it smaller, or to offer palliative care to the patient. Some chemotherapy is performed to help shrink a tumor before you receive surgery or radiation.

You may also receive chemotherapy after surgery to help kill any cancer cells that are still remaining in the body. Targeted therapy drugs may also be given to help fight your cancer, as well as immunotherapy drugs. These drugs can help boost your immune system and encourage it to fight cancer within your body.

If you’ve already had cancer treatment but it’s still not going away, or if your cancer comes back, you may also receive chemotherapy.
While this is a widely used form of treatment, chemo has several side effects that every patient should be aware of.

Understanding the Adverse Effects of Chemotherapy

If you have cancer, those cells grow fast, and chemo drugs can help to kill them quickly. However, since chemotherapy drugs travel through the entire body, it’s likely that those drugs will also affect some healthy cells as well.

When your healthy cells become damaged, it creates a wide variety of unpleasant side effects. In most cases, the chemo drugs damage blood-forming cells in bone marrow, hair follicles, or cells in the mouth, digestive tract, or reproductive system.

In severe cases, chemotherapy can damage the heart, kidneys, bladder, nervous system, and lungs, too. One unusual side effect from specific drugs involves coping with chemo unexplained tears, where the eyes begin to water uncontrollably.

Not everyone will deal with the side effects of chemotherapy. Some may have side effects, but they’re not as intense or as uncomfortable as they may be for others.

Some of the most common side effects associated with chemotherapy include extreme fatigue and hair loss. You may also notice that you bruise or bleed more easily than normal, or that you’re more susceptible to infection.

Other side effects of chemo include anemia (low red blood cell counts), nausea, vomiting, and appetite changes, and bowel-related side effects like constipation or diarrhea. You could also deal with problems of the mouth, throat, and tongue such as pain or sores.

Ongoing chemotherapy treatments often intensify side effects. You could experience mood changes, weight changes, or a reduction of focus and concentration. Dry skin or skin that changes color, as well as numb or tingling nerves, is also common.

When to Notify Your Doctor

There are some instances where you may undergo physical changes, but you may assume that it’s normal due to chemotherapy treatment. If you notice anything unusual, you should contact your doctor right away.

Some side effects are perfectly normal or short-term, while others can indicate a very serious underlying problem. If you have a very high fever that’s over around 100.5 degrees or more, contact your cancer team right away.

Any sudden bleeding or unexplained bruising, a sudden rash, or any signs of an allergic reaction should also be reported as soon as possible. If you get intense chills or feel any pain or soreness at the site of your chemo treatment, this is also cause for concern.

Pay attention to how your body feels, and notify your doctor as soon as you notice anything extreme or unusual. If you have chest pain or experience shortness of breath, contact 911 for help right away.

How Long Does Chemotherapy Take?

No two cancer patients are alike, and neither is the type of cancer you have or treatment you will receive. If you’re wondering how long does chemotherapy take, the answer depends on your specific doctor’s recommendations.

The length and frequency of your treatment will vary as prescribed by your doctor or treatment team. Some sessions can be as short as a half-hour, while others can go as long as three or four hours.

During your consultation, your doctor can tell you what to expect in terms of timeframe and length of treatment. If you make great progress, you can expect your treatment sessions and frequency to be shorter.

Expect to have your blood drawn during every chemo treatment. This is done so that your healthcare team can assess your progress and look for any signs of reactions or other problems. If your blood levels are “off,” your chemotherapy may be rescheduled.

Hope for Cancer Patients

Although it can certainly have some unpleasant side effects, when you ask, “how long does chemotherapy take?” remember that it will vary depending on your unique circumstances. Stay in contact with your doctor and make them aware of any side effects as soon as possible so they can make sure you’re on the right path toward wellness.

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