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The truth about chemotherapy side effects.

The Truth About Chemotherapy Side Effects

Doctors sometimes brush off chemotherapy's side effects as a small price to pay for increased survival. But chemotherapy came out of World War II mustard gas experiments and it remains poison.

Most of the 40 or so chemotherapeutic agents cause baldness by producing a weakened hair shaft that breaks off at the scalp. Hair may take years to return to normal.

Nausea and vomiting are common. Many patients get sick just pulling into the hospital parking lot. Such nausea can lead to weakness, weight loss, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Other gastrointestinal (GI) effects are infections of the mucous lining, lips, tongue and mouth. Abdominal colic, constipation, diarrhea are all common. Candida (thrush) is found in 13 percent of patients. Doxorubicin causes esophagus inflammation in 50 percent.

Toxic drugs leaking from a needle cause skin necrosis; severe damage to nerves, tendons and muscle can follow. Surgeons treat this by excising the skin, followed by grafts to repair the damage.

Radiation recall: skin, trying to heal from radiation burns, reddens and peels again; blisters and oozing follow. 5-Fluorouracil can even make people burn from normal sunlight.

Busulfan and other drugs cause discoloration of the skin, weakness, inability to eat and weight loss. Doxorubicin causes darkening of fingers and toes. Bleomycin results in pigmentation of the trunk. Thiotepa leads to whitening of the eyelids, nail damage, brittleness, loosening and even loss of nail plates.

Most anti-cancer drugs also cause second cancers, especially of the GI tract, ovaries, and lungs. These are nearly impossible to treat. Tumors continue to develop for years. In one study, 17.6 percent of survivors developed unrelated cancer up to 15 years later.

Immune system damage is almost universal. The whole panoply of blood diseases is seen: thrombocytopenia with its loss of white blood cells that guard against infection; severe bone marrow hypoplasia; inability to synthesize fibrinogen; abnormally long bleeding time; granulocytopenia. Resulting infections can be treated with antibiotics, but these can bring their own set of side effects.

Heart damage can occur weeks, months or years after treatment, signalled by rapid heart beat, shortness of breath, distended neck veins, swollen ankles, enlarged liver and heart. Up to 30 percent of high-dose Doxorubicin-recipients develop congestive heart failure.

Over 40 percent of patients experience mouth ulcers, pain and bleeding, which can make eating a torture. Other problems: candidal, herpes and viral infections; dry mouth, drooling, painful swallowing. Loss of sensation, muscle pain, weakness and changes in senses and motor skills are common. Methotrexate causes stiff neck, headache, nausea, vomiting, fever and lethargy for up to 72 hours. Paralysis, paraplegia and death have also occurred. Vinblastine and vincristine cause double vision, loss of bladder control, impotence, and paralysis of the bowel wall.

Ear damage and hearing loss are associated with cis-platin, which is being used against testicular, ovarian, cervical, and head and neck cancers.

Reproductive organs can be profoundly damaged, resulting in sterility.

BCNU causes pulmonary fibrosis: lungs harden, with dry cough, fever, difficult breathing and cyanosis in 20 to 30 percent of patients.

From a monthly newsletter published by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D., author of The Cancer Industry, The Cancer Chronicles, 161 West 61st St., New York City, New York 10023.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vegetus Publications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Mar 22, 1991
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