Possible side effects of chemotherapy for secondary cancer in the liver

The side effects you may get depend on the chemotherapy drugs you are given. Some side effects will be easier to manage than others. It’s important to remember that most will go away when your treatment is over.

One of the most common side effects of chemotherapy treatment is an increased risk of infection. You must contact the hospital straight away if you have symptoms such as a high temperature, feeling shivery, a cold, a sore throat, or passing urine more often.

Some other common side effects are:

  • bruising and bleeding
  • anaemia (reduced number of red blood cells)
  • feeling sick
  • a sore mouth
  • taste changes
  • hair loss
  • effects on the nerves
  • tiredness (fatigue).

It is not advisable to become pregnant or father a child while having chemotherapy, as it may harm the developing baby. So it’s important to use effective contraception during treatment and for at least a few months afterwards.

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

What are the possible side effects of chemotherapy for secondary cancer in the liver?

The side effects you may get depend on the chemotherapy drugs you are having. Different drugs cause different side effects. Some side effects are mild and easily treated. Others can be harder to manage but can often be reduced or helped in some way. Most side effects are short-term and usually stop or gradually go away when chemotherapy is over. Chemotherapy can also make you feel better by relieving the symptoms of the cancer.

The main side effects of chemotherapy are described here. Your doctor or nurse will tell you about the side effects you may have.

Although these side effects may be hard to bear at the time, they will begin to disappear once your treatment is over.


Risk of infection

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 37.5ºC (99.5ºF) or over 38ºC (100.4ºF) 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 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.

We have information about avoiding infections.


Bruising and bleeding

Chemotherapy can reduce the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help the blood to clot. If you develop any unexplained bruising or bleeding, such as nosebleeds, bleeding gums, blood spots or rashes on the skin, contact your doctor or the hospital straight away.


Anaemia (reduced number of red blood cells)

If chemotherapy reduces the number of red blood cells in your blood, you may become very tired and feel you have no energy. You may also become breathless and feel dizzy and light-headed. These symptoms happen because the red blood cells contain haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body.

If your haemoglobin is low you may be offered a blood transfusion. You’ll feel more energetic and any breathlessness will be eased.


Feeling sick or being sick

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 several different types you can try. We have more information about controlling nausea and vomiting.


Sore mouth

Chemotherapy can cause mouth problems such as a sore mouth, mouth ulcers or infection. Drinking plenty of fluids, and cleaning your teeth regularly and gently with a soft toothbrush can help to reduce the risk of this happening. Your chemotherapy nurse will explain how to look after your mouth to reduce the risk of problems. They can give you mouthwashes, medicines and gels to help.

We have some useful tips on coping with a sore mouth during chemotherapy.


Taste changes

You may find that your sense of taste changes, or that the texture of food seems different. This may be due to the cancer, or it can be a temporary change following cancer treatment. You may no longer enjoy certain foods, or find that all foods taste the same. Some people having chemotherapy notice a metallic taste in their mouth. Others find that food has no taste at all.

Helpful hints – changes to sense of taste

  • You might find cold foods taste better than hot foods.
  • Sharp-tasting fresh fruit/juices or boiled sweets can leave a pleasant taste in the mouth.
  • Use seasoning, spices and herbs to flavour cooking.
  • Try marinating food or use strong-flavoured sauces.


Hair loss

Some chemotherapy drugs may cause hair loss. Some people may have complete hair loss including eyelashes and eyebrows. Others may only experience partial hair loss or thinning. It depends on what chemotherapy drugs you are having (your doctor or nurse can tell you more about what to expect). If you do experience hair loss your hair should start to grow back within about 3–6 months of the end of treatment. It may grow back straighter, curlier, finer, or a slightly different colour than it was before. Your nurse can give you advice about coping with hair loss and how to look after your scalp.


Effects on the nerves

Some chemotherapy drugs can affect the nerves in your hands or feet. This can cause tingling or numbness, a sensation of pins and needles or muscle weakness (called peripheral neuropathy).

It’s important to let your doctor know if this happens. They may need to change the chemotherapy drug if it gets worse. Usually, peripheral neuropathy gradually gets better when chemotherapy is over but sometimes it’s permanent.


Tiredness (fatigue)

You’re likely to become tired and 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 increase your energy levels. We have helpful tips on coping with tiredness.


Contraception

It is not advisable to become pregnant or father a child while having chemotherapy as it may harm the developing baby. It is important to use effective contraception during your treatment and for at least a few months afterwards. You can discuss this with your doctor or nurse.

It is not known whether chemotherapy drugs can be present in semen or vaginal fluids. To protect your partner, it is safest to either avoid sex or use a barrier form of contraception for about 48 hours after chemotherapy.

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