Side effects of chemotherapy for brain tumours

Chemotherapy can cause side effects. Your doctor can prescribe medicines to control some of these. Your nurse will also give you advice. Always tell them about your side effects.

Chemotherapy can reduce the number of white blood cells making you more at risk of getting an infection. If you have a high temperature or any signs of infection, contact the hospital straightaway. It can also reduce the number of red blood cells making you feel tired and breathless. If the drugs reduce the platelet cells in your blood, you may bruise or bleed more easily. You’ll have blood tests before treatment to make sure your cells have recovered.

Feeling sick is another side effect but your doctor can give you anti-sickness drugs. Tiredness is very common. Try to pace yourself and get plenty rest. It’s unusual to lose all your hair with the chemotherapy drugs used but your hair may become thinner.

If you’re worried about the effects of chemotherapy on your fertility, talk to your specialist before treatment starts. You need to use effective contraception during chemotherapy.

Common side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs may cause side effects. But these can usually be well controlled with medicines and usually go away once treatment has finished. Not all drugs cause the same side effects and some people may have very few. You can talk to your cancer doctor or nurse about what to expect from the treatment that’s planned for you. The main side effects are described here as well as some ways to reduce or control them.

Lowered resistance to infection (neutropenia)

Chemotherapy can reduce the number of white blood cells, which help fight infection. If the number of your white blood cells is low you’ll be more prone to infections. A low white blood cell count is called neutropenia.

Always contact the hospital immediately on the 24-hour contact number you’ve been given and speak to a nurse or doctor if:

  • you develop a high temperature – this may be over 37.5°C (99.5°F) or over 38°C (100.4°F) depending on the hospital’s policy. Follow the advice that you have been given by your chemotherapy team
  • you suddenly feel unwell, even with a normal temperature
  • you feel shivery and shaky
  • you have any symptoms of an infection such as a cold, sore throat, cough, passing urine more frequently (urine infection), diarrhoea.

If necessary, you’ll be given antibiotics to treat any infection.

You’ll have a blood test before each cycle of chemotherapy to make sure your white blood cells have recovered. Occasionally, your treatment may need to be delayed if the number of your white blood cells is still low.

Anaemia (reduced number of red blood cells)

Chemotherapy may reduce the number of red bloods cells (haemoglobin) in your blood. A low level of red blood cells is known as anaemia, which can make you feel very tired and lethargic. You may also become breathless.

Bruising and bleeding

Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot. If the number of platelets in your blood is reduced, you may bruise very easily or bleed more than usual from minor cuts or grazes. Tell your hospital doctor or nurse about this. Contact them straight away if you have nosebleeds, bleeding gums or tiny red or purple spots on the skin (called petechiae).

Feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting

Some chemotherapy drugs can make you feel sick (nauseated) or possibly be sick (vomit). Your cancer specialist will prescribe anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs to prevent this. Let your doctor or nurse know if your anti-sickness drugs are not helping, as there are different types you can take.

Tiredness (fatigue)

You’re likely to become more tired as treatment goes on and you will have to take things slowly. Try to pace yourself and save your energy for things that you want to do or that need doing. Balance rest with some physical activity – even going for short walks will help you to feel less tired.

Hair loss

The chemotherapy drugs used to treat brain tumours may cause hair thinning. Complete hair loss is uncommon. Hair starts to grow back within about 3–6 months of the end of treatment. Your nurse can give you advice about coping with hair loss and how to look after your scalp.


Effects of chemotherapy on fertility

Contraception

Your doctor will advise you not to get pregnant or father a child while having chemotherapy. This is because the drugs may harm the developing baby. It’s important to use effective contraception during your treatment.

Protecting your partner

It’s not known whether chemotherapy drugs can be present in semen or vaginal fluids. To protect your partner, it’s safest to use a condom if you have sex within 48 hours after chemotherapy.

Infertility

If you’re worried about the effect chemotherapy may have on your fertility, it’s important to talk this over with your cancer specialist before treatment starts.

We have information about the effects of cancer treatment on fertility for women and men

Back to Side effects of chemotherapy

Late effects of chemotherapy

Late effects are side effects you still have six months after chemotherapy, or side effects that begin years later.