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ALL Chemotherapy Side Effects Explained: What Happens to Body During Chemotherapy?

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Published on March 15, 2016

Dr. Ryan Cassaday from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center talks about ALL chemotherapy side effects and their effects on a body. Chemotherapy side effects include fatigue and nausea. It also reduces your blood cell count, which can weaken your immune system system and make you feel tiredness. One of the biggest challenges of treating ALL is supporting patients with these side effects.

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Transcript | ALL Chemotherapy Side Effects Explained: What Happens to Body During Chemotherapy?

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Dr. Cassaday:

Some of the more common side effects that we encounter for patients being treated for ALL would include fatigue, nausea, some of the more typical sort of side effects that you would think about with somebody going through cancer treatment.  The drugs work by killing cells that are dividing very quickly; leukaemia cells divide very, very quickly and these drugs are designed to kill those cells selectively.  However, other cells in the body also divide very quickly and they are injured by the chemotherapy as well.  And probably the most notable cells that are normal and dividing very quickly are the cells that give rise to our healthy blood cells.  So, patients will often have a depression in their blood counts as a consequence of this treatment.  The consequence of that is impaired immune system, so the white blood cells drop so we’re less able to fight off infections and things like that.

So patients often have to take preventative antibiotics to prevent infections, they’re at risk of infections and fevers and things like that which can often be a big setback in the treatment.  So, we really monitor those very closely.  People become anaemic, their body no longer makes red blood cells, the cells that carry oxygen through the body, so that can make people tired, short of breath, various other symptoms.  And the platelets, the little fragments of cells that float around in the blood and help prevent bleeding, those also drop into a range where we worry about, you know, even a nose bleed being a potentially life threatening problem.

The ways we have of handling the anaemia and the low platelets is typically with blood product transfusions.  So, it’s very common for people with ALL to have to come in periodically to have their blood counts checked and then to get a transfusion.  So, all of these elements sort of go into the support of care of taking care of patients with acute leukaemia which is oftentimes one of the biggest challenges of treating this disease, beyond just the actual killing of the cancer cells itself because the treatment is very intense and very rigorous.  

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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