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Side Effects of Chemotherapy: Cancer Doesn't Kill Most Patients

Susanna Sisson's picture
Chemotherapy and Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy is one of the most deadly drugs on the planet. Chemotherapy ravages your body, killing healthy cells, and has horrendous side effects including death and secondary cancers. Chemotherapy has a 2.1% success rate yet along with surgery and radiation, is still a leading allopathic treatment. [1] And we all know someone, possible many people, who have gone through traditional treatment only to be told their cancer was back or has spread. Chemotherapy is not only ineffective, it’s barbaric.


The real killer behind 3 out of 4 cancer deaths is not cancer but a syndrome called cachexia or extreme malnutrition which can be preventable. Why else do you think in some cancer cases doctors attempt to prevent the syndrome by inserting feeding tubes before you begin chemotherapy? Yet rarely are issues of nutrition correctly addressed. I have worked in many hospitals and only one recommended taking supplements or eating certain foods to boost overall nutrition while undergoing treatment rather than discouraging them. In my opinion patients had better outcomes and families were happier with care.

People with cancer have higher energy needs not only due to the cancer itself, but also the stress and worry of financial issues and outcomes of treatment and the side effects during chemo treatment such as anorexia, vomiting, and diarrhea as well as malabsorption issues make it impossible to get the nutrition your body needs. The patient may also experience difficulty swallowing, changes in taste and even mouth sores that make taking nutrition difficult, unpleasant, or even painful.

Tumor cells need even more energy than normal cells so what nutrition you are able to take in is being used up by the cancer cells while you are essentially starving.

Yet, doctors not only disregard nutrition for their patients they are advised against taking anything like vitamins that might help their condition. Does that really make sense?

Chemotherapy drugs are highly toxic to healthy cells, tissue, blood, bone marrow and can cause secondary cancers. That’s why special handling procedures are provided to nurses and other medical personnel who will be preparing or administering the drugs. Chemo drugs must also be properly disposed of including their packaging and anything that comes in contact with chemo like IV tubing and even the gloves nurses wear.

As a nurse and knowing this it begs another question. Why give something toxic to an already sick patient especially when we know the side effects are so damaging and the “cure” rate is so small?
Chemotherapy targets cells that are actively growing and dividing. Although this is a defining characteristic of cancerous cells, it is also a feature of some actively growing normal cells, such as cells in the blood, mouth, intestines, and hair. Side effects occur when the chemotherapy damages these healthy cells that maintain the body’s function and appearance. The management of these symptoms is called palliative care.

Different drugs cause different side effects. Although specific side effects may be predictable for certain classes of drugs, each person’s experience with chemotherapy is unique. Talk with your doctor about specific side effects that you may experience or are experiencing as well as asking for help with your increased nutritional needs.

Some types of cancer treatments have significantly fewer side effects. Ask your doctor about options and always seek a second opinion. I would also suggest doing your own research before making any decisions. Often doctors impose a sense of urgency that can trigger fear. You have a right to choose whether you use allopathic treatments or alternatives or a combination of both and you have a right to postpone treatment without judgement.

Common side effects of chemotherapy:

Fatigue: Fatigue (a persistent sense of tiredness or exhaustion) is the most common symptom reported by patients receiving chemotherapy. Learn more about fatigue and how to cope with it.

Pain: Chemotherapy can cause pain for some people, including headaches, muscle pain, stomach pain, and pain from nerve damage, such as burning, numbness, or shooting pains (most often in the fingers and toes). Pain usually diminishes over time, but some people may have symptoms for months or years after chemotherapy has finished due to permanent damage to the nerves. Doctors can manage pain by treating the source of the pain; changing the perception of pain, usually with pain-relieving medications; or interfering with pain signals sent to the brain through spinal treatments or nerve blocks.

Sores in the mouth and throat: Chemotherapy can damage the cells that line the mouth and throat. The sores (also called mucositis) usually develop five to 14 days after receiving chemotherapy. Although the sores may become infected, they usually heal completely when treatment is finished. Patients receiving chemotherapy who have unhealthy diets and/or poor dental hygiene increase their risk of mouth and throat sores.

Diarrhea: Certain chemotherapy causes loose or watery bowel movements. Preventing diarrhea or treating it early helps a person avoid becoming dehydrated (the condition when the body does not get the amount of fluids it needs) or developing other problems.

Nausea and vomiting: Chemotherapy can cause nausea (an urge to vomit or throw up) and vomiting—a risk that depends on the type and dose of chemotherapy. With appropriate medications, nausea and vomiting can be prevented in nearly all patients.

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Constipation: Chemotherapy - as well as some drugs to treat nausea and vomiting, pain, depression, and high blood pressure—may cause constipation (the infrequent or difficult passage of stool). Patients may also increase their risk of constipation by not drinking enough fluids, not eating balanced meals or not getting enough fiber, or by not getting enough exercise.

Blood disorders: Chemotherapy affects the production of new blood cells in the bone marrow, the spongy, inner mass of the bone. Symptoms and complications arising from low blood counts are among the most common side effects of chemotherapy.

Patients may experience low white blood cell (WBC) counts predisposing them to infections like pneumonia or urinary tract infections.

They may experience low platelet counts, a condition called thrombocytopenia which can cause easy bruising and bleeding and require blood infusions of platelets.

Anemia is also a common side effect with chemotherapy and is due to a low number of red blood cells (RBC). In severe cases low RBC’s may necessitate blood transfusions which can then lead to a complication called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), in which the patient has simultaneous clotting and bleeding. DIC is a very serious condition that can be deadly.

These conditions can sometimes be treated with medications that stimulate the bone marrow to make more blood-forming cells that develop into RBCs, WBCs, and platelets.

Nervous system effects: Some drugs cause nerve damage, resulting in one or more of the following nerve- or muscle-related symptoms:

• Tingling
• Burning
• Weakness or numbness in the hands and/or feet
• Weak, sore, tired, or achy muscles
• Loss of balance
• Shaking or trembling
• Stiff neck
• Headache
• Visual problems
• Walking problems
• Difficulty hearing
• Clumsiness

These symptoms usually improve when the chemotherapy dose is lowered or treatment is stopped; however, in some cases, the damage is permanent.

Changes in thinking and memory: Some patients experience difficulty thinking clearly and concentrating after chemotherapy. Cancer survivors often refer to this side effect as “chemo brain” and may or may not improve after treatment is complete.

Sexual and reproductive issues: Chemotherapy can affect sexual function and fertility (a woman’s ability to conceive a child or maintain a pregnancy and a man’s ability to father a child). Talk with your doctor about the possible sexual and reproductive side effects before treatment begins. In addition, chemotherapy is capable of harming a fetus (unborn baby) during pregnancy, particularly if given during the first trimester of pregnancy when the fetus’ organs are still developing. Women should take precautions to avoid pregnancy during treatment and tell their doctor if they become pregnant.

Appetite loss: People receiving chemotherapy may eat less than usual, not feel hungry at all, or feel full after eating only a small amount. Ongoing appetite loss can lead to weight loss, malnutrition, and loss of muscle mass and strength, which can hinder the body’s ability to recover from chemotherapy.

Hair loss: Patients receiving chemotherapy may lose hair from all over the body, gradually or in clumps. This side effect most often starts after the first several weeks or rounds of chemotherapy and tends to increase one to two months into treatment.

Long-term side effects: Most side effects of chemotherapy disappear at the end of treatment. However, some side effects may continue, come back, or develop later. For instance, certain types of chemotherapy are associated with permanent organ damage to the heart, lung, liver, kidneys, or reproductive system. In addition, some people find that cognitive functions (such as thinking, concentrating, and memory) remain a challenge for months or years after treatment. Nervous system changes can also develop after treatment, and children who have received chemotherapy may experience late effects (side effects that occur months or years after cancer treatment). Cancer survivors also have a higher risk of developing subsequent cancers later in life.

My own father had bladder cancer twice before he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was given a few months to live but decided against chemotherapy and lived about 18 months past what the doctors had predicted and in the end did not die of his cancer but instead succumbed to a stroke.

1. The True History of Chemotherapy & The Pharmaceutical Monopoly