Side effects of chemotherapy

In my chemotherapy drug regimen, I take three drugs: Taxotere, Carboplatin and Herceptin. Below are the side effects of these drugs. I’ve highlighted the ones I’ve experienced.

Taxotere

The most common severe side effects are low white–blood-cell count, anemia, fatigue, diarrhea, and mouth and throat irritation. Low white–blood-cell count can lead to life-threatening infections (I was hospitalised with a bacterial infection and viral infection after my first chemo session).

Other common side effects from Taxotere® include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, rash, infusion-site reactions, odd sensations (such as numbness, tingling, or burning) or weakness in the hands and feet, nail changes, muscle and/or bone pain, or excessive tearing.

Carboplatin

Low blood counts (including red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets), nausea and vomiting, taste changes (my mouth is infused with a metallic twang – food doesn’t taste like it used to), hair loss, weakness, blood test abnormalities (abnormal magnesium levels).

These are less common side effects for patients receiving Carboplatin:

  • Burning sensation at the injection site
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Mouth sores
  • Infection
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Although uncommon, a serious side effect of decreased sensation and paresthesia (numbness and tingling of the extremities) may be noted. Sensory loss, numbness and tingling, and difficulty in walking may last for at least as long as therapy is continued. These side effects may become progressively more severe with continued treatment, and your doctor may decide to decrease your dose.
  • Central neurotoxicity:  Infrequent but patients over age 65 are at increased risk.  Symptoms include dizziness, confusion, visual changes (my eyesight was effected during the first few treatments), ringing in the ears.
  • Nephrotoxicity (see kidney problems):  More frequent when Carboplatin is given in high doses or to people with kidney problems.
  • Hearing loss (ototoxicity) – loss of high pitched sounds.
  • Abnormal blood electrolyte levels (sodium, potassium, calcium).
  • Abnormal blood liver enzymes (SGOT, Alkaline phosphatase) (see liver problems).
  • Cardiovascular events.  Although infrequent, heart failure, blood clots and strokes have been reported with Carboplatin use.  Less than 1% were life-threatening.
  • Allergic reaction may occur.  It would occur during the actual transfusion.  This may include itching, rash, shortness of breath or dizziness (especially in patients who have received cisplatin).

Herceptin

Common side effects include:

  • Moderate to severe heart failure.
  • Cough
  • Wheezing.
  • Shortness of breath that wakes the patient in the night.
  • Pleural effusion (collection of fluid around the lungs).
  • Swelling of the extremities.
  • Rash.
  • Liver toxicity (hepatitis, abdominal fluid collection).An infusion related reaction may also be seen and is characterised by:
  • Chills.
  • Fever
  • Generalised weakness.
  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting.
  • Headache
  • Dizziness.
  • Changes in blood pressure.

    Uncommon side effects of Herceptin:

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (acute onset of severe shortness of breath).
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (chronic lung damage).
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