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Other side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is carried in the bloodstream to cancer cells anywhere in the body.  This also means that normal cells are affected, which can cause side effects. Most side effects can be controlled and usually improve when chemotherapy stops. Some of the main side effects are described here, but different drugs can cause different side effects.

Before you start treatment, talk to your doctor or nurse about the possible side effects. Knowing what to expect can help. There are ways to manage them.

Loose watery stools (diarrhoea)

Some chemotherapy drugs can cause diarrhoea. If this happens make sure you drink plenty of fluids, and let your doctor or nurse know as they can give you medication to help. If you have diarrhoea more than four times a day, ring the hospital on the number you will have been given. Your chemotherapy may be delayed until the diarrhoea is better, or reduced.

Extreme tiredness (fatigue)

Fatigue is a common side effect of chemotherapy. It can be hard to cope with, as it makes it more difficult to carry out your daily activities. It is usually worse towards the end of your treatment, but most people find their energy levels improve after finishing treatment.

Feeling and being sick (nausea and vomiting)

Chemotherapy can make some people feel or be sick. This usually happens a few hours after treatment, and can last a few days. Your doctor will usually prescribe you anti-sickness medicines before you start chemotherapy to help with this. If this doesn’t work, speak to your doctor about changing to a different anti-sickness medication.

Loss of appetite

You may not feel like eating during chemotherapy. You may also feel sick, which can affect your appetite. If this happens and you can’t manage to eat much, try eating little and often – for example three small meals and three snacks a day. If you don’t feel like eating, speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian. They can help you to manage this.

Taste changes

Some chemotherapy drugs can make food taste different. Some people describe it as a metallic or cardboard taste. Sucking boiled sweets or using herbs and spices in your food can help. Your doctor or dietitian may also be able to give you advice on managing this. Taste changes usually improve with time.

Sore mouth and mouth ulcers                                                      

You may get a sore mouth or mouth ulcers during chemotherapy treatment. Clean your teeth regularly with a soft toothbrush, and avoid spicy or citrus foods that might sting your mouth. Your doctor or nurse can give you advice. They will be able to give you an anti-bacterial mouthwash that should help. This should get better when treatment ends.

Losing your hair

Chemotherapy drugs for pancreatic cancer may cause your hair to thin slightly, or may cause hair loss. Using a gentle shampoo (such as baby shampoo) and leaving your hair to dry naturally helps. Hair loss is more common with chemotherapy treatment that includes nab-paclitaxel or FOLFIRINOX. Your hair will usually grow back after treatment stops.

Your nurse can give you advice on coping with losing your hair. Macmillan Cancer Support also have information about hair loss.

Blood clots

Having pancreatic cancer means you may be more likely to get a blood clot forming in a vein. This is called a thrombosis or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Some chemotherapy drugs can increase the risk of this happening.

Symptoms may include swelling, redness or pain in your arms or legs, sharp chest pain or shortness of breath. Blood clots are serious but they can usually be treated successfully. Tell your chemotherapy team straight away if you have any of these symptoms, or any other problems while you’re having chemotherapy.

Diet and chemotherapy                                                       

The pancreas plays an important role in digesting food, as it produces substances called enzymes that help to break down the food. Nutrients from the food can then be absorbed into the blood and used by the body. Pancreatic cancer can reduce the number of enzymes that your pancreas makes. This means that food is not properly digested. It can cause symptoms, including loss of appetite, weight loss, feeling and being sick, diarrhoea, oily floating poo (steatorrhoea), bloating and wind.

Problems with eating and digestion can be managed. Pancreatic enzyme supplements can help to break down food, and can make a big difference to how you feel. You should be told about them by your dietitian, doctor or nurse. If you haven’t seen a dietitian, ask to be referred to one.

More chemotherapy information

Published May 2017

Review date May 2019 

Information Standard