Side effects make some doctors reluctant to use chemotherapy for prostate
cancer. The damage of the drugs is systemic, so all quickly-dividing cells are affected. Some side effects are treated with other drugs; others continue until chemotherapy is stopped. Patients who experience severe side effects should notify their doctor. Patients should be alert for other possible side effects, because not all side effects may be listed here.
Digestive Side Effects
Gastrointestinal tract damage may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and constipation. Drinking plenty of water and consuming a high-fiber, low-fat diet can help. Patients should avoid foods that upset the stomach, such as acidic beverages including coffee, tea, citrus juice, and tomato juice. Alcohol can also worsen these side effects.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) medications may help treat diarrhea and constipation. If OTC drugs are ineffective, patients can speak with their doctors about prescription (RX) drugs. Patients who stop eating or experience vomiting or diarrhea can become dehydrated or malnourished. They should consult their doctor if these side effects become severe.
Throat and mouth sores can be caused by both digestive tract damage and a low white blood cell count. Avoid mouthwash with alcohol as well as hard, crunchy, acidic, or excessively salty or spicy foods. Switching to a soft toothbrush and avoiding tobacco products may help alleviate these sores.
Hair, Nail, and Skin Side Effects
Not all patients experience hair loss, the most apparent chemotherapy side effect. Some patients experience partial hair loss or brittle hair shafts, while others lose all of their hair. Losing hair can be distressing, but hair will re-grow when chemotherapy is stopped. Some people shave their heads for comfort or to more easily wear hair prostheses. Patients who do not wear prostheses should keep their heads covered to avoid sunburn.
Fingernails and toenails will not fall off, but white bands of discoloration may appear. Clipping the nails short will improve one's appearance and help one avoid accidental scratching.
Patients may notice that skin is more susceptible to sunburn or prone to rashes, boils, and ulcers. If symptoms become severe, they should alert their doctor. Using tepid water for baths and showers and gentle soaps and lotions can usually alleviate discomfort. Drinking plenty of water helps keep skin feeling hydrated.
Chemotherapy’s Effect on Fertility
The type of chemotherapy drug, dose, and length of treatment can cause infertility in some prostate cancer patients of childbearing age. Alkylating agents, vinblastine, and doxorubicin are all considered chemotherapy drugs that can affect a man’s infertility. Careful selection of chemotherapeutic agents for men may help decrease the incidence of infertility. Other fertility measures may be recommended on a case by cases basis.
Chemotherapy's Effect on Blood and Bone Marrow
In the center of the bones is a soft material called bone marrow, which is responsible for producing blood cells. These cells divide quickly and are vulnerable to chemotherapy. White blood cells are responsible for fighting off any infectious agents that enter the body. Chemotherapy depletes white blood cells and the body becomes vulnerable to infection. Patients may experience chills, fever, shortness of breath, and nasal congestion.
Red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen. A drastic drop in red blood cells is called anemia. Anemic patients will feel tired or irritable and may experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, or chest pain. The drug epoetin stimulates the productions of red blood cells. Platelets are responsible for clotting. Chemotherapy patients will bruise easily and bleed excessively in the face of even minor injury and, less commonly, experience internal bleeding. Anti-inflammatory drugs decrease platelet production and exacerbate low platelet count. A drug called oprelvekin stimulates platelet production. Patients who take epoetin or oprelvekin can avoid transfusions and hospital stays due to blood-related side effects.
Chemotherapy's Effects in the Nervous System
Patients who use chemotherapy for prostate
cancer treatment may notice side effects due to therapy interaction with the nervous system. Such side effects include:
- Neuropathy (tingling and loss of sensation in hands and feet)
- Disturbances in vision
- Ringing in the ears
Patients who experience these symptoms should report immediately to their doctors. Doctors can prescribe drugs to counteract these side effects. Amifostine may be able to counteract any of the above side effects. Tricyclic anti-depressants can be used to treat chemotherapy-induced depression. Doctors commonly prescribe amitriptyline, desipramine, or nortriptyline. Pain from damage to the nervous system is also a side effect of prostate cancer chemotherapy. Some doctors will prescribe anticonvulsants like carbamazepine or gabapentin. Acupressure and acupuncture, however, are more commonly being used to treat pain caused by chemotherapy.