• You are here:
  • Home »

Side Effects Defined- Chemo and Radiation-induced

Side Effects Defined- is a pillar page linking hundreds of chemotherapy and radiation-induced side effect-focused blog posts on PeopleBeatingCancer. If you care to learn more about any of the side effects listed below, simply click on the link to take you to a more in-depth explanation of the concept you want to learn about.

First and foremost, anyone considering undergoing  chemotherapy or radiation must understand that any and all therapies cause side effects. These side effects may be short-term, relatively minor and therefore manageable or long-term and therefore more serious.

When most newly diagnosed cancer patients think about side effects, they think of common short-term side effects such as nausea, fatigue, and alopecia. While these short-term side effects are serious, they generally go away on their own once the cancer patient discontinues his/her active therapy.

When cancer patients complete active therapy, become cancer-free,  leave the hospital, maybe even ring a bell, they often think that the cancer ordeal is behind them.

When it comes to long-term and late stage side effects, nothing could be further from the truth.

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses one or more anti-cancer drugs as part of a standardized chemotherapy regimen. When I talk about chemotherapy, I am including:

  • Hormone therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Alkylating agents
  • Antimetabolites
  • Anti-tumor antibiotics
  • Topoisomerase inhibitors
  • Mitotic inhibitors
  • Plant alkaloids

Chemotherapy and radiation kill cancer but also cause-

resulting in short, long-term and late stage side effects. An example of what I mean is the inflammation caused by radiation, for example, causes radiation fibrosis (radiation scarring) that can eventually lead to radiation-induced lumbo-sacral plexopathy (RILP).

This process, this one side effect may take years from undergoing radiation at the hospital to having the scarring progress beyond moderate tightness and tingling to measurable nerve damage and loosing the ability to walk.

In my experience oncology discusses the problem of side effects little if at all. Conventional oncology is tasked with treating your cancer. If the cancer patient is fortunate enough to reach remission, the oncologist’s job is done. If the patient is alive for more than five years after they are diagnosed with cancer, they are considered to be cured.

Unfortunately, cancer patients aren’t prepared for the short, long-term and late stage side effects that inevitably come with toxic therapies.

Cancer patients can, however, anticipate, treat and in many cases heal short, long-term and late stage side effects.

I know because I have struggled with my own incurable cancer and the side effects that resulted from my own chemotherapy and radiation since the completion of my standard-of-care therapies in 1995 and 1996.

  • Chemotherapy- simply put, chemotherapy is any chemical designed to treat cancer.
  • Radiation- Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-ray or other particles to destroy cancer cells.

What do I mean by short, long-term and late stage side effects?

Short-termside effects caused by either chemo or radiation that should heal once the therapy ends.

The most common short-term side effects of chemotherapy and radiation are:

The short term side effects that I dealt with are discussed in the blog posts linked below-

  1. Treatment-Induced Short-Term Side Effects
  2. Therapy-induced Deep Vein Thrombosis- blood clot

Long-term- side effects that continue long after chemo or radiation therapy ends. Examples would be chemotherapy-induced lumbo-sacral plexopathy or chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy-

The long-term side effects that I deal with to this day are-

  1. Treatment-induced Aging
  2. Treatment-induced Nerve Damage-CIPN and RILP
  3. Chronic Non-Cancer  Pain
  4. Treatment-induced Relapse
  5. Treatment-related Secondary Cancer
  6. Treatment-induced Cognitive dysfunction-Chemobrain
  7. Treatment-induced hypertension –High blood pressure
  8. Cancer-related Fatigue- 

I’ve never developed a treatment-related secondary cancer. However, I know fullwell that my chemotherapy and radiation increased my risk of a secondary cancer and that risk increases each and every year.

Late Stage- side effects that occur long-after chemotherapy or radiation ends. My late stage side effects include:

  1. Corticosteroid-induced Avascular Necrosis
  2. Treatment-induced Cardiomyopathy- Heart Damage
  3. Treatment-induced Atrial Fibrillation- Afib
  4. Treatment-induced Hemorrhagic Cystitis-Irritible bladder
  5. Therapy-induced Dysphagia-Difficulty Swallowing
  6. Therapy-induced Xerostomia- Dry Mouth
  7. Managing Mental Health as a Cancer Survivor-

While everyone who is diagnosed with cancer focuses on active treatments with the goal of becoming cancer-free and therefore in complete remission, it is necessary to think beyond remission in an effort to consider possible long-term and late stage side effects.

Consider the concepts below.

palliative care is treatment for the symptoms and side effects that patients can experience. Palliative care is not curative in itself but it can be given along with therapies with curative intent.