How Long do the Side Effects of Chemotherapy Last?

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Chemotherapy drugs are designed to kill fast growing cancer cells. As chemotherapy drugs circulate through the body, they can also kill fast growing healthy cells. The side effects of chemotherapy vary from person to person. The blood forming cells are the ones usually damaged by the harsh chemotherapy treatment plan. Cell formation in the reproductive system, bone marrow, hair follicles, digestive tract and soft tissue of the mouth are likely to be affected.

Once the chemotherapy regime is concluded, many of the side effects begin to resolve themselves. Mouth sores heal, hair grows back, nausea and vomiting subside, menstruation resumes, and blood counts return to normal levels.
Certain types of chemo drugs are more likely to cause long-term side effects. This is called a late effect of chemotherapy. The following side effects can occur months, or even years, after chemotherapy treatment.

<strong></strong>Fatigue is a common complaint among patients receiving chemotherapy. In rare cases, patients continue to experience persistent exhaustion and fatigue for many months after being treated with chemotherapy drugs.

<strong>Emotional Instability</strong>
Cancer and the subsequent treatment after diagnosis can be a roller coaster ride for patients. Bouts of depression and anxiety can occur, followed by gratitude and relief that the treatment is over. There may be a fear that the treatment wasn’t successful and the cancer will recur. These feelings are normal and usually subside with time.

<strong>Eating and Digestive Complaints</strong>
Chemotherapy can affect digestion, and the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Chronic diarrhea can also be a long-term side effect of chemotherapy. If these symptoms do not subside with time, a dietician or nutritionist should be consulted.

<strong>Dental Problems</strong>
Some chemotherapy drugs may cause permanent damage to tooth enamel, which can lead to tooth decay and long-term dental problems. If you have received chemotherapy, be sure to see your dentist regularly.

<strong>Bone Density Issues</strong>
Certain chemotherapy drugs may cause bone thinning (osteoporosis) and chronic joint pain. You can lower your risk of developing these conditions if you exercise regularly, eat a calcium rich diet, take supplements if necessary, avoid cigarette smoking, and limit your alcohol consumption.

<strong>Heart and Lung Problems</strong>
<strong></strong>Symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, arrhythmia, high blood pressure, or inflammation of the lungs are a few of the conditions that can occur while receiving chemo. Sometimes these symptoms continue after treatments have been completed. Let your doctor know if you experience any of these or other troubling symptoms.

Most patients who receive chemotherapy begin to recover from the side effects shortly after discontinuing the drugs. Chronic long- term side effects, though rare, do occur in some cases. Scheduling regular follow-up appointments with your oncologist is the best way to return to good health, and minimize the likelihood of ongoing problems after chemotherapy treatment.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "How Long do the Side Effects of Chemotherapy Last?," in, January 10, 2016, (accessed September 26, 2022).