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The Disadvantages of Chemotherapy

by
author image Rae Uddin
Rae Uddin has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2004. She specializes in scientific journalism and medical and technical writing. Her work has appeared in various online publications. Uddin earned her Master of Science in integrated biomedical sciences with an emphasis in molecular and cellular biochemistry from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.
The Disadvantages of Chemotherapy
Cancer treatment chemotherapy room. Photo Credit zgr_pro/iStock/Getty Images

Overview

Chemotherapy is an effective drug treatment designed to kill cancer cells in individuals with various forms of carcinoma. Chemotherapy--or chemo for short--destroys cancer cells, and can also stop or slow the spread or growth of these cells. Despite the obvious benefits of chemo treatment, there are several disadvantages to this form of treatment that should be considered before finalizing your cancer treatment strategy.

Side Effects During Treatment

The most significant disadvantage of chemotherapy is the development of treatment-related side effects. During treatment, you may experience a variety of gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal or constitutional symptoms. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), individuals undergoing chemo frequently report experiencing such symptoms as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, constipation or diarrhea. Fever and fatigue are also common side effects experienced by chemotherapy patients. The most apparent and emotionally challenging side effect associated with chemo treatment is alopecia--a medical condition in which your hair falls out. This condition may only affect certain areas of your body, such as the scalp, but may also extend to the face or limbs. The Mayo Clinic notes that chemo patients may also develop painful mouth sores or may bruise easily. Though these side effects may be significant, the majority of these symptoms will disappear once chemo treatment is stopped.

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Side Effects After Treatment

The NCI notes that, in some instances, side effects related to chemotherapy may not become evident until months or years after treatment has ended. These effects may include heart or kidney problems, lung tissue damage or nerve damage. Chemo treatment may also lead to infertility, which can affect your ability to conceive a child. Though chemotherapy has been proven effective in the resolution of several types of cancer, there is always a risk that the cancer may reemerge after treatment has ended.

Treatment Schedule

Depending on the type or severity of your cancer, your chemotherapy schedule may require that you visit your oncologist for daily or weekly treatments. According to the NCI, chemo treatment is typically administered intravenously (IV), but may also be given in an injection, oral pill or liquid or a topical cream. Traditional IV treatments may last for several hours, which may be inconvenient if you have family or job responsibilities.

Treatment Costs

Even if you have medical insurance, the cost of chemo treatment can be expensive--especially if you require long-term treatment. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Alerts, one in five cancer patients under the age of 65 delayed or avoided chemo treatment based solely upon treatment costs. This problem is becoming worse as newer anticancer drugs emerge, especially as more than one type of chemo drug may be necessary to treat your type of cancer. If you have difficulty paying for your chemotherapy, Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Alerts states that some pharmaceutical companies offer programs that can help pay for your treatment.

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References

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