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August 2010
What You Should Know About
Dr Chanchal Goswami
Chemotherapy is a general term for treatments that use chemical agents (drugs) to kill cancer cells. Most commonly, chemotherapy acts by killing cells that divide rapidly, one of the main properties of cancer cells.

Coping with Side Effects
Chemotherapy medications attack the cancer cells of the body. But they also tend to attack the healthy cells, causing some side effects. Not all patients will have side effects and the intensity varies greatly. With advanced therapy, targeted chemos, and better understanding, most of the side effects can be very well controlled and sometimes even prevented.
  • Discuss with your oncologist about the type of side effects that you may experience and on how to minimise or prevent them.
  • List down all your medications and their timings to avoid confusion.
  • Avoid taking over-the-counter medications, without talking to your oncologist.
  • Seek medical help in case of any query or confusion.
Controlling Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are two of the most common side effects of chemotherapy.
  1. Avoid spicy food. Take fresh fruits and vegetables instead (unless medically contraindicated).
  2. Take medications to prevent nausea and vomiting as advised.
  3. Request someone else to cook for you to avoid the nausea from cooking smells.
  4. Eat food at room temperature.
  5. Eat food slowly.
  6. Instead of one large meal, take small bites frequently to help in digestion.
  7. Make mealtimes enjoyable in whatever way possible – with company of loved ones, light music, eating outdoors… the options are endless.
Reducing Constipation and Diarrhoea
Chemotherapy may affect the intestines and cause constipation or diarrhoea.
  1. In case of diarrhoea, drink more fluids. Try eating bland, easily digestible food like khichdi, dal water, rice, boiled vegetables and so on.
  2. To avoid constipation, eat high-fibre food such as bran, whole fruits, whole-wheat bread, etc.
  3. Talk to the doctor about medications that can help you. Avoid taking over-the counter-drugs (medicines without prescription).
Reducing Infections
Chemotherapy drugs can reduce the number of germ-fighting white cells, thereby increasing the risk of infection.
  1. Wash your hands often. Use germicidal solutions and hand sanitisers often.
  2. Avoid being around people who have infections.
  3. Talk to your doctor about medications that raise your white cell count.
Preventing Bleeding
Chemotherapy may reduce the number of platelets, which are the cells responsible for blood clotting. You’ll need to reduce all possible risks of bleeding.
  1. Avoid incidences of getting bruised.
  2. Be very careful with sharp objects.
  3. Talk to your doctor about increasing the platelet count.
Overcoming Fatigue
Sometimes patients may feel very tired during the chemo. It is important to
  1. Take things slowly. Pace down the activities.
  2. Plan your days and prioritise activities.
  3. Ask for help when needed.
  4. Take rest in between the day
When to Call the Doctor
  1. Signs of infection including temperature of 101 ºF or higher, chills, sweating cough, throat pain, etc.
  2. Chest pain or breathing trouble.
  3. Bleeding that won’t stop.
  4. Uncontrolled vomiting or diarrhoea.
How Is Chemotherapy Given?
Oral as tablets, capsule or liquid form.
Intravenously (called I.V.) through a vein.
Intravenously through a catheter (a soft, flexible tube) placed in the upper chest, through the duration of the treatment. This is usually the preferred mode of chemotherapy drug delivery.

Did You Know?
While there is no special 'anticancer diet', eating plenty of certain fruits and vegetables can certainly help reduce your risk of getting cancer.Fresh fruits and vegetables provide a number of phytochemicals that are natural antioxidants, many of which seem to protect and repair our DNA. Some antioxidants appear to affect cancer cells, controlling their growth and spread.

  1. Broccoli
  2. Cabbage
  3. Carrots
  4. Cauliflower
  5. Brinjal(eggplant)
  6. French beans
  7. Red and yellow bell peppers
  8. Radishes
  9. Soybean
  10. Sweet potatoes
  11. Tomatoes
  12. Yam
  13. Yellow pumpkin
  14. Apricots
  15. Grapefruit
  16. Grapes
  17. Lemons
  18. Mangoes
  19. Oranges
  20. Papaya
  21. Peaches
Dr.Chanchal Goswami is Consultant Medical Oncologist at Apollo Gleneagles Cancer Hospitals

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