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Side-effects of chemotherapy

If you are a diagnosed with a brain tumour, one of the treatments your medical team may offer is chemotherapy. This is the use of drugs to destroy tumour cells by disturbing their growth. Chemotherapy can be used on its own as a treatment, or alongside radiotherapy.

Chemotherapy is the use of cytotoxic (anti-cancer) drugs that affect the growth of tumour cells by interfering with the way they divide and create copies of themselves. Chemotherapy acts on all dividing cells, including healthy cells, but healthy cells are able to repair themselves better than tumour cells, so fewer of them die after treatment.

Chemotherapy may also be used before surgery or radiotherapy to shrink the tumour or after surgery or radiotherapy, to prevent the tumour from returning.

What side-effects might I have?

Because chemotherapy acts on rapidly or frequently dividing cells, any healthy cells in the body that divide frequently are vulnerable to chemotherapy.

These include skin and hair cells and those lining the digestive system. Most of the side-effects you may experience are because of the chemotherapy affect those vulnerable areas.

Side-effects tend to gradually disappear over time once the treatment is complete, but if you’re concerned about any of your side-effects, please remember to speak to your healthcare team.

It’s important to remember that side-effects vary from person to person and from drug to drug.

Common side-effects

  • Increased risk of infection
  • Increased risk of bleeding or bruising
  • Tiredness
  • Anaemia
  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Sore mouth caused by inflammation inside the mouth
  • Changes to taste, appetite and digestion
  • Effects on skin and
  • Numbness or tingling hands or feet
  • Reaction with alcohol and foods

Less common side-effects

Less common side-effects can occur that affect other organs, such as the lungs, liver or kidneys. Some of these cause symptoms, but others can only be detected by blood tests, which you’ll have during your treatment. Your oncologist will go through these possibilities with you.

If you get a reaction, it’s important that you stop taking the tablets and contact your healthcare team.

Do I need to stay in hospital during the chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is generally given as an outpatient treatment, which means that you don't have to stay in hospital overnight, although in certain circumstances you will need to. A member of your health team will talk to you about this before you start your treatment.

How will this affect my work?

While you will not need to stay in hospital to receive treatment, if you work, you will need to arrange time off for hospital appointments.

Some of the side-effects you may experience might mean you need a longer period of time off work.

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