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Chemotherapy Side Effects

Some of the most common side effects of chemotherapy are nausea and vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, infections, and increased bruising and bleeding. The form and intensity of side effects depend on the drugs used for your cancer treatment, your age, and your general health.

We encourage you to talk with your medical team about possible side effects and their recommendations for managing them, both before and during treatment.


Some chemotherapy drugs can cause a queasy, upset stomach. Severe nausea may cause vomiting, and your doctor can prescribe medications to help. You might also:

  • Drink lemon or ginger tea.
  • Avoid spicy or foods with strong aromas.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals.

For detailed advice on dealing with nausea and vomiting, visit:

Mouth Sores

Tell your medical team immediately if you develop mouth sores during chemotherapy treatments. Though a common side effect, treatment will be more effective at the first signs of sores. For safe, easy treatment of mouth sores:

  • Avoid citrus fruits and juices as well as spicy foods.
  • Replace spicy, rough, or crunchy foods with foods that are soft and easy to swallow.
  • A baking soda mouthwash can be used as often as desired.
  • Your doctor may prescribe other medications if necessary.

Hair Loss

Your chemotherapy may cause partial or complete hair loss. Your hair will usually grow back after treatment, within approximately three to six months. Please ask your physician or nurse about programs to help you look and feel your best. To help cope with hair loss:

  • Use mild shampoos.
  • Use soft hairbrushes.
  • Use low heat if you must use a dryer.
  • Don't use brush rollers to set your hair.
  • Don't dye your hair or get a permanent.
  • A shorter hair style makes your hair look thicker and fuller, and is easier to manage.
  • Use a sunscreen, sun block, hat, scarf, or wig to protect your scalp from the sun.
  • Use a satin pillowcase.
  • Consider wearing a wig or a hairpiece, or perhaps a scarf, cap, or turban.

Skin Irritations

You may develop rashes; itchy, dry, or flaky skin; or notice changes in the color of your skin or nails. These are all temporary side effects that should disappear after treatment.

  • If you develop acne, keep your face clean and dry.
  • For itching skin, apply cornstarch.
  • Take quick, warm showers rather than long, hot baths to help avoid dryness.
  • Apply creams and lotions while your skin is still moist.
  • Avoid perfumes, colognes, or after-shave lotions. They often contain alcohol, which can make your skin dry.

Kidney or Bladder Problems

Some chemotherapy drugs irritate your bladder or cause permanent kidney damage. You may notice a strong or medicine-like odor or a change in the color of your urine (orange, red, or yellow). Be sure to let your medical team know if you develop any of these symptoms:

  • Pain or burning when you urinate
  • Frequent urination
  • A feeling that you must urinate right away
  • Reddish or bloody urine
  • Fever
  • Chills

To avoid or treat kidney or bladder problems, drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Avoid adding excessive sugar to drinks and limit caffeine.

Sexuality or Fertility Problems

Some chemotherapy drugs can affect sexual organs and performance. Visit our Intimacy and Cancer page for more information.