Adverse Reactions To Chemotherapy Biology Essay

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To investigate whether a relationship between chemotherapy - associated adverse events and treatment efficiency exist, we have analyzed the toxicity, objective and survival data of 303 patients9190 men and 113 woman)who received first or second line chemotherapy between 1998-2001. Patients were divided into two groups. Group 1 had positive treatment effects, which included complete response.

The second group was rated progressively during chemotherapy. Out of the 303 patients 245 were categorized in G1 -58 patients in G2 and only 6 patients had no side effects and 297 patients had at least one adverse event. In all 252 patients (83%) they had Hematological side effects and 289 patients (95%) had non Hematological side effects.

In conclusion the result of the analysis of 303 patients with cancer suggested that occurrence of side effects during chemotherapy is independent prognostic indicator of response, patients should receive adequate drug dosages, which may warrant individualized dose escalation. However, treatment associated side effects should not be too sever and thus interfere with the patient quality of life (schuell, T., 2005).

Chemotherapy is treatment with anti-cancer drugs, given to destroy or control cancer cells.  A single drug may be given or several different drugs may be given together. This is called combination chemotherapy. The aim of the treatment will depend on the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is.

Chemotherapy drugs enter your bloodstream and therefore reach all parts of your body. Chemotherapy drugs destroy cancer cells by damaging them so they can't divide and grow. The drugs can also affect normal cells which are growing and dividing quickly and this can cause side effects. These are usually temporary because healthy cells quickly recover and permanent damage is rare with most chemotherapy treatments.

Sometimes chemotherapy is used on its own in cancers that respond well to this treatment, however, chemotherapy is often used with other treatments. It may be given before surgery or radiotherapy to shrink the tumor or after these treatments to help destroy any cancer cells that may remain. The aim is to reduce the likelihood of your cancer returning in the future. Palliative chemotherapy is given if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and the aim is to help relieve symptoms .

The length of your treatment will depend on how well your disease responds to the drugs. Your doctors may choose to give you treatment for several weeks and then check on your progress. Overall, it may take several months to complete your course of chemotherapy.

Your doctor will monitor your progress throughout treatment. There are several tests which may be repeated during your treatment including scans, x-rays and blood tests. These tests check on your health and the way chemotherapy is affecting you. They will vary from person to person so if you're not sure why you're having a particular test ask your doctor or nurse. Sometimes, as a result of the tests you have during treatment, your chemotherapy plan may be changed. For example, if the blood test shows that your 'blood count' is low, your doctor may decide to give you a longer rest period between cycles or reduce the dose of the drugs.

This paper will be on adverse reaction of chemotherapy . I will discuss about bone marrow suppression, gastrointestinal toxicity , dermatology toxicity , renal toxicity , bladder toxicity , sex organ and sexuality disfunction and depression .

3- Definition of chemotherapy

" Chemotherapy is a cytotoxic drug used to control the growth cancerous cells or destroy abnormal cells. It is used to slow the growth of cancer cells or to keep cancer from spreading to other parts of the body, also if cancer is surgically removed, chemotherapy may be used to keep cancer from coming back."

(The cancer chemotherapy hand book 2003).

4- Causes of side effects

Because cancer cells may grow and divide more rapidly than normal cells, many anticancer drugs are made to kill growing cells, but certain normal cells also can be affected. This damage to normal cells causes side effects.

(The cancer chemotherapy hand book).

Persons may have none or just a few of the side effects. The kinds of side effects and how severe they are depend on the type and dose of chemotherapy the person gets and how his body reacts, most side effects gradually disappear after treatment and some causes permanent changes or damage e.g. (heart, lungs, nerves, kidneys).

Patients should enquire about possible chemotherapy side effects. They may suffer from it with their medical team (Doctors and nurses) and period of time it last and when he/ she need to seek medical treatment.

5- 1.Bone marrow suppression

The three major problems of bone marrow depression are

(The cancer chemotherapy hand book (2003)):

5.1.1. Anemia

Is reduction of the concentration of hemoglobin and the circulating blood cells (RBC) mass. Anemia affects the person's energy level, functional ability, mood, and overall quality of life. Physical symptoms the person will feel dyspnea, dizziness, headaches and tachycardia.

Figure 5-1-1

5.1.2. Leucopenia - Granualocytopenia

Leucopenia is a decrease in the total number of circulating white blood cells (neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils) the cells responsible to fight against infection, so reduction in its number causes local and systemic infections. The signs and symptoms of infection are high temperatures more than 38°C, tenderness, swelling, chills, rash, increased respiration, malaise, headaches and cough.

Figure 5- 1-2

5.1.3. Thrombocytopenia

Thrombocytopenia is the platelet count less than 10.000 cells/mm. this is seriously dangers as patients are at high risk for CNS bleeding, GI bleeding or respiratory tract hemorrhage and good observation for skin for any petechiae, porpura and bruising are needed. Also tests of stool, urine and vomits for presence of blood.

Figure 5-1-3

5.2.Gastrointestinal toxicity

5.2.1. Nausea & Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting which is associated with chemotherapy are most distressing side effects with treatment. Nausea is unpleasant sensation with discomfort in the epigastric, throat and abdomen. While vomiting is the forceful expulsion of the content of the stomach through the mouth or nose.

Patients will feel weakness, dizziness, headaches, low blood pressure and bradycardia or tachycardia. The patients differ from acute (within the first 24 hours) delay (is after 24 hours of treatment and may last 1-7 days).

5.2.2. Diarrhea

Diarrhea in cancer patients may be related to a number of causes, such as anxiety, a change in diet, infection, radiation, medication, tumor, obstruction and chemotherapy.

The GI tract is susceptible to chemotherapy toxicity because of the rapid turnover of the mucosal cells. Diarrhea observed in 75% of patients who received chemotherapy. Some patients report prolonged or severe diarrhea that requires intervention to minimize complications of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, weakness, decreased caloric intake and weight loss.

5.2.3. Constipation

Constipation is defined as difficult passage of hard, dry stool with excessive straining, incomplete evacuation, abdominal cramping, discomfort, distention, feeling of fullness and pressure in the rectum.

The cause of constipation is immobility, older age, less oral intake, drugs, metabolic abnormalities and chemotherapy effects on the GI mucosa membrane. Careful monitoring for stool impaction to protect the integrity of rectal mucosa and bleeding.

5.3.Dermatology Toxicity


Alopecia is hair loss as the effect of chemotherapy on hair folliculate and cell mitosis causes cell destruction of hair roots associated with complete or minimal alopecia. Fear, anxiety, disturbing self and body image, negativity in coping and social instruction. The degree of distress may be minimized by adapting changes of focus from physical value. Family and health care support.

Figure 5.3 - 1


Extravasation is the infiltration of a vesicant drug from an I.V. line in to surrounding tissue-can occur with cither a peripheral or a central venous catheter.

Extravasation occurs when a peripheral catheter erodes through the vessel wall at a second point, when increased venous pressure causes leakage around the original veinopuncture site, or when a needle pulls out of the vein. Signs and symptoms of extravasation include edema and changes in the site's appearance and temperature, such as swelling, blanching, and coolness. The patient may complain of pain or a feeling of tightness around the site.

Vesicant drugs or solutions (such as certain antineoplastic drugs ) cause severe tissue injury or destruction when they extravasate. Possible consequences include necrotic ulcers, infection, disfigurement, reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, and loss of function.

Figure 5.3-2

5.4.Renal Toxicity

Impaired renal function and nephrotoxicity is due to the use of nephrotoxic chemotherapy drugs. High dose therapy lead to more renal toxicity, acute renal function failure and hemolytic uremic syndrome are potentially serious and fatal complication.

Before initiating therapy it is essential to assess renal function and evaluate risk factors.

Figure 5.4.1

5.5.Bladder Toxicity

Contact of the bladder wall with toxic drugs produces mucosal erythema, inflammation, ulceration, necrosis, diffuses small-vessel hemorrhagic oozing and reduced bladder capacity. Symptoms include hematurea and dysuria, and with prolonged use of these drugs may cause bladder carcinoma.

Use of good hydration and discontinuation of treatment depends on the degree of toxicity.

Figure 5.5.1

5.6 - Sexual Organs & Sexuality Disfunction

Chemotherapy may - but does not always - affect sexual organs (testis in men, vagina and ovaries in women) and functioning in both men and women. The side effects that might occur depend on the drugs used and the person's age and general health.


Chemotherapy drugs may lower the number of sperm cells and reduce their ability to move. These changes can result in infertility, which may be temporary or permanent. Infertility affects a man's ability to father a child, but not a man's ability to have sexual intercourse. Other possible effects of these drugs are problems with getting or keeping an erection and damage to the chromosomes, which could lead to birth defects.


Effects on the ovaries. Anticancer drugs can affect the ovaries and reduce the amount of hormones they produce. Some women find that their menstrual periods become irregular or stop completely while having chemotherapy. Related side effects may be temporary or permanent.

5.7- Depression

Depression is a mental state characterized by feelings of extreme sadness, a loss of energy, trouble with appetite or sleeping, or suicidal thoughts. People who are depressed lose interest in things that once made them happy. Depression may cause feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, leading to problems in dealing with simple daily tasks, such as getting dressed. An estimated 15-25% of cancer patients suffer from depression. The main symptoms of depression are :

Feelings of sadness that won't go away

Suicidal thoughts or attempts; fascination with death

Loss of hope or worth

Lack of energy

Sleeping too much or too little

Loss of interest in food or overeating

Inability to enjoy typically fun things

Difficulty making decisions and performing tasks

Anxiety; irritability

Depression is a common side effect in cancer patients and is not a sign of weakness. Diagnosingpatient problems and getting help for them as soon as possible is important in overcoming depression. Discussion of patient feelings with treating doctor, who may be able to refer him to a counselor or other mental health professional. The doctor might also recommend medication to help relieve the symptoms.

Figure 5.7.1


In conclusion chemotherapy is a cytotoxic drug used to cure, control growth, shrink and destroy the tumor and at the same time affect and destroy the normal cells, which lead to many side effects.

Different chemotherapy have different short term and long term side effects , some of them causes Depression of bone marrow (anemia, bleeding, infection), GI toxicity (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, stomatitis).dermatology toxicity(alopecia, extravasations), renal and bladder toxicity and lots of problems e.g. cardiopulmonary, neurological, gondola toxicity, fatigue, pain, memory changes that could not be mentioned now.

But remember that the side effects depend on many factors, which are: duration of drug use, person's general health, the dose and way of giving the drugs. Some side effects are serious and need medical treatment. Most of the adverse effects disappear after the treatment stop.

If the person does not get side effects, it does not mean that the treatment is not working, at the end always discuss the possible side effects with your Doctor and health care team.