Side Effects of Chemotherapy
All chemotherapy drugs work in slightly different ways, so it’s hard to predict the side effects. There are a few rules of thumb to consider:
- Ignore what others have said about their reactions to the different drugs. Dosage, drug combinations, and the response to the drugs might be completely different. No two people will react to drugs the same way, especially for different types of cancers.
- Pay close attention to expected and unexpected reactions to the drugs. Your medical team will describe what to look out for in general, but you could always experience something they didn’t anticipate—and it’s good to be extra cautious.
- Don’t be “macho.” There are plenty of drugs to help ward off or treat different side effects, including nausea/vomiting, sleep problems, and general exhaustion. All treatments work best when the body is at its strongest.
- Relax. Chemotherapy drugs are powerful and can take a toll on the body. Focus on getting well by finding a way to alleviate stress—listening to music, doing yoga or stretching exercises, taking walks, or watching TV.
About Docetaxel (Taxotere)
Docetaxel, the most common chemotherapy drug, is actually very well tolerated. Many men are pleasantly surprised at the improvements in many disease-related symptoms (pain, fatigue, loss of energy) after starting this therapy.
Docetaxel does have some side effects. About 3% of men will experience a fever with a low white blood cell count that will require medical attention. This can be prevented by using white blood cell growth factors (neulasta), though infection remains a slight but serious risk.
About 50% of men will experience significant fatigue at some point in their therapy, usually for the first week of each cycle. About 1/3 of men will experience numbness or weakness in their toes or fingers that interferes with function (neuropathy). This is best handled by prevention, so you must tell your doctor if you are experiencing this.
Other docetaxel side effects include:
- Low platelets that can result in bleeding (1%)
- Anemia (5%)
- Reduced heart function (10%)
- Hair loss (65%)
- Diarrhea (32%)
- Nail changes (30%)
- Loss of appetite (20%)
- Shortness of breath (15%)
- Fluid retention (10-20%)
Many of these are mild and reversible/treatable.