Cancer Home > Chemotherapy Side Effects

Fatigue, nausea, and hair loss are among the common side effects of chemotherapy. These typically occur when the treatment harms healthy cells. In most cases, side effects will gradually go away after the treatment ends and the healthy cells have a chance to grow normally. The time it takes to recover from side effects can depend on factors such as your overall health and the kind of chemotherapy used.

An Overview of Chemotherapy Side Effects

Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with medications that can destroy cancer cells. These drugs are often called "anticancer" drugs. Chemotherapy medications destroy cancer cells by stopping them from growing or multiplying. However, healthy cells can also be harmed, especially those that divide quickly. The fast-growing, normal cells most likely to be affected are:
  • Blood cells forming in the bone marrow
  • Cells in the digestive tract (in the mouth, stomach, intestines, or esophagus)
  • Cells in the reproductive system (sexual organs)
  • Hair follicles.
Some anticancer drugs may also affect cells of vital organs, such as the heart, kidney, bladder, lungs, and nervous system. Harm to healthy cells is what causes chemotherapy side effects.
(This article covers many, but not all, of the possible side effects with chemotherapy. Your healthcare provider can discuss a more complete list of chemotherapy side effects with you.)
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Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
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