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What to Expect After Chemotherapy for Oral Cancer

Because chemotherapy drugs kill all fast-growing cells, they kill healthy cells as well as cancer cells. This means you may have side effects. What those side effects are varies based on which drugs you take. Ask your oncologist and chemotherapy nurse for the details on the side effects that might occur in you. Side effects of chemotherapy are different for everyone.

Side effects may be short term, called acute, or ongoing, called chronic.

Potential acute side effects

Side effects depend on the type of chemotherapy you are getting, so there may be side effects listed below that you will not have, or other side effects you might encounter that are not listed below. Here are some acute side effects you may have:

  • Anemia

  • Appetite loss

  • Bloating, from water retention

  • Bruising

  • Chewing, swallowing, and talking difficulties

  • Constipation 

  • Dehydration

  • Diarrhea

  • Fatigue

  • Less energy during and for a while after treatment

  • Hair loss

  • Increased risk of getting infections

  • Mouth sores

  • Nausea

  • Pain 

  • Vomiting

If you are getting radiation at the same time you are getting chemotherapy, the side effects you have from radiation may be worse. These may include mouth sores and difficulty swallowing.

What to know about chemotherapy and infections

It's likely that your doctor will take blood samples from you often during the period of time you are getting chemotherapy to make sure you aren't having harmful reactions. Make sure you ask your doctor what signs, if any, mean you should call immediately. For instance, chemotherapy can make it easier for you to get infections, so you should call your doctor if you have any of these signs of infection:

  • Fever

  • Shaking, chills

  • Sore throat

  • New cough or shortness of breath

  • Burning during urination

  • Flu-like symptoms (aches, weariness, nausea, diarrhea)

Potential chronic side effects

These are some chronic side effects of chemotherapy. These side effects may continue even after your treatment ends:

  • Tingling or numbness in hands and feet

  • Infertility

  • Pain