Various medical advances have assisted health care experts handle, minimize, and avoid certain side effects of cancer treatments. However parents whose kids require chemotherapy– among the most common treatments for childhood cancer– frequently have numerous questions and issues about it.
Many children who receive chemotherapy will recover from their cancer without suffering any long-term side effects. Nevertheless, other children who have to have chemotherapy do suffer from severe, and in some cases lasting, side-effects from the effective drugs that are had to conserve their lives.
Chemotherapy (often simply called “chemo”) refers to medications that kill actively dividing cells. Unlike healthy cells, cancer cells grow continuously since they don’t react to typical signals that control cell growth. Chemotherapy works by interfering with cellular division and eliminating actively dividing cancer cells. In contrast to radiation therapy, which damages cancer cells in a specific area of the body, chemotherapy works to treat cancer throughout the body.
If your child has actually been identified with cancer, doctors will develop a personalized treatment plan that takes into account your child’s age, the type of cancer, and where it’s located. A pediatric oncologist (a doctor who specializes in the treatment of childhood cancer) will work with other healthcare experts to determine the chemotherapy routine that’s best for your child.
How Chemotherapy Is Provided
Just as other medications can be taken in numerous kinds, there are a number of ways to get chemotherapy. Most of the times, it’s provided intravenously into a vein, likewise referred to as an IV. An IV is a small tube placed into a vein through the skin, normally in the arm. The IV is connected to a bag that holds the medicine. The chemo medication flows from the bag into the vein, which puts the medication into the blood stream. Once the medicine is in the blood, it can travel through the body and attack cancer cells.
In some cases, a long-term IV called a catheter is positioned under the skin into a larger blood vessel of the upper chest. That method, a child can get chemotherapy and other medications through the catheter without needing to always use a vein in the arm. The catheter stays under the skin until all the cancer treatment is finished. It also can be used to get blood samples and for other treatments, such as blood transfusions, without repeated needle sticks.
Chemo likewise can be:
- taken as a pill, capsule, or liquid that is swallowed
- given by injection into a muscle or the skin
- injected into spinal fluid through a needle inserted into a fluid-filled area in the lower spinal column (below the spine)
Chemotherapy is often used along with other cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy, surgery, or biological therapy (using substances to help the body’s immune system fight cancer).
Great deals of kids and teens receive mix therapy, which is making use of two or more cancer-fighting drugs. In a lot of cases, mix therapy minimizes the possibility that the cancer will end up being resistant to one kind of drug– and enhances the possibilities that the cancer will be treated.
When and Where Chemo Is Provided
Depending upon the approach used to administer chemotherapy, it might be offered at a healthcare facility, cancer treatment center, doctor’s workplace, or at home. Numerous kids receive chemotherapy on an outpatient basis at a clinic or medical facility. Others may have to be hospitalized to keep track of or treat side effects.
Kids might receive chemotherapy every day, each week, or each month. Doctors sometimes use the term “cycles” to explain a chemotherapy schedule due to the fact that treatment periods alternate with periods of rest so a child can recuperate and gain back strength.
Typical Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Although chemo often efficiently damages or gets rid of cancer cells, it likewise can damage regular, healthy cells. This can cause side effects.
Chemotherapy side effects are various for each child. The kind of anticancer drug used, the dosage, and a child’s general health impact the risk of establishing side effects. Fortunately is that the majority of side effects are temporary– as the body’s regular cells recover, the side effects slowly go away. It’s likewise important to remember that doctors have methods of helping with many typical side effects of chemotherapy.
Cancer treatment is complex– that is, patients get a great deal of care (i.e., fluid and nutrition support, transfusion support, physical therapy, and medicines) to help them tolerate the treatments and treat or avoid side effects such as queasiness and vomiting.
It’s challenging to forecast which side effects a child might experience, how long they’ll last, when they’ll end. If your child has side effects, make certain to talk with your doctor about how to manage them.
Tiredness is the most typical side effect of chemotherapy. Kids may need to minimize or eliminate activities during chemo, and may feel very tired even after sleeping and resting. Fatigue may last for days, weeks, or months, however it does go away once treatment is over.
Encourage your child to rest and sleep as frequently as possible– even if it does not instantly lead to more energy– due to the fact that rest helps the body recover from chemo. Short naps or breaks from activity may be more helpful than longer ones.
Discomfort and Pain
There might be some preliminary discomfort when a chemotherapy catheter or IV needle is put in the vein. Certain anticancer drugs also cause mouth pain, headaches, muscle discomforts, and stomach discomforts. Chemo medication may cause temporary nerve damage, which can lead to burning, numbness, tingling, or shooting pain in the fingers and toes.
Kids taking pain medication need to not skip doses– waiting until pain is bad can make it more difficult to manage. If your child’s pain persists or worsens at any time, speak with your doctor. Likewise, make certain to go over using alternative or over the counter medicines and vitamins. There might be drug interactions with chemo you wish to avoid.
Skin Damage or Modifications
Skin may be red, sensitive, or easily inflamed in the days, weeks, and months during and after treatment. If your child had radiation therapy prior to chemotherapy, the cured skin might redden, blister, and peel when chemo begins. This condition is referred to as “radiation recall.”.
A child who has delicate or irritated skin should wear loose, soft clothes and avoid using creams or other industrial products on the affected area. Your doctor may recommend a lotion or cream to minimize inflammation. Prolonged sun exposure must be prevented. If your child is going to be outdoors, consult with the doctor about utilizing sunscreen.
Hair Loss and Scalp Sensitivity
Due to the fact that chemotherapy frequently eliminates the healthy cells responsible for hair growth, it prevails for kids undergoing chemo to lose their hair or have a sensitive scalp.
Hair thinning and loss of hair might happen all over the body during treatment, consisting of the head, face, arms and legs, underarms, and pubic area. Your child’s hair might end up being thinner and after that fall out entirely or in clumps.
Losing hair can be frightening for kids and make them feel worried about standing apart. Getting a shorter haircut might make it less terrible once loss of hair begins. Your child may also feel more comfortable wearing hats, bandannas, baseball caps, scarves, or wigs till the hair grows back. And it will grow back. The majority of kids’ hair regrows prior to treatment ends or within 3 months following its end, though it might be a somewhat different color or texture than it was previously.
To safeguard the head from sun direct exposure, have your child wear a hat and sun block while outside. Even if your child doesn’t have loss of hair, using moderate hair shampoo and other hair items can assist prevent scalp inflammation.
Mouth, Gum, and Throat Sores
Chemotherapy might cause sores in the mouth, gums, and throat or cause gum tissues to become irritated and bleed. The doctor may recommend a mouth wash or other items to reduce pain, dryness, and inflammation.
Make sure to take your child for routine dental checkups and follow the dental professional’s recommendations on how to brush the teeth during chemotherapy. Kids with mouth or throat pain might discover soft, cool foods easier to chew and swallow; acidic foods and juices ought to be avoided.
Intestinal problems (consisting of loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting) can take place, although medications can assist prevent or lower nausea and vomiting. Speak to your doctor about medicines or dietary modifications that might help relieve an indigestion, prevent weight loss, or fight constipation.
If your child doesn’t feel like eating a big meal, try serving little meals throughout the day. And make certain to provide foods high in nutrients to prevent weight loss. Avoid serving fatty, sweet, spicy, or fried foods. And even though your child might not feel like drinking, water, clear broth, juices, and sports drinks can replace fluids lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Room-temperature drinks may be much easier to drink than hot or cold liquids. The doctor or a signed up dietitian may have recommendations for guaranteeing sufficient nutrition and hydration.
Urinary System Problems
Some chemotherapy drugs can aggravate or harm the bladder or kidneys and can cause the urine (pee) to alter color or take on a strong odor for a day or 2. The doctor may request a blood or urine sample before beginning chemotherapy to evaluate kidney function.
Providing your child plenty of fluids to drink will ensure excellent urine circulation and help prevent issues in the urinary tract. Make certain to let the doctor understand if your child establishes symptoms that might show an issue with the urinary system, such as painful or regular urination, reddish or bloody urine, or a failure to urinate.
Central Nervous System Problems
Chemotherapy might cause temporary confusion and anxiety, which ought to go away as soon as treatment is completed.
Decreased Blood Counts
- Low hemoglobin (anemia)
The doctor will monitor your child’s blood counts to check for anemia (low levels of red cell, which are made in the bone marrow and carry oxygen throughout the body). Kids with anemia may feel worn out or have a headache. Red cell transfusions might be necessary.
- Low platelets (thrombocytopenia)
Chemotherapy drugs might inhibit the body’s ability to produce platelets, which help blood to embolisms. Your child may bleed or bruise quickly due to the fact that of a decrease in platelets. Platelet transfusions might be needed.
Increased Risk of Infection
Chemo can deplete leukocyte, which become part of the body immune system and help the body fight infection. This can increase the risk for infections both during and after treatment. To assist safeguard your child:
- Advise everyone in your household to clean their hands prior to consuming, after using the bathroom, and after touching animals. They should not share cups or utensils with pals or relative.
- Pals and relative with contagious illnesses (such as a cold, the flu, or chickenpox) needs to not go to. Aim to avoid crowds and children who have gotten certain vaccines, such as chickenpox, oral polio, and the influenza nasal spray– these are live virus vaccines and can spread out disease to kids with low blood cell counts. Your child likewise shouldn’t receive immunizations without your doctor’s OK.
To avoid foodborne infection, your child should not eat raw fish, seafood, meat, or raw eggs.
Long-Term Side Effects
Chemotherapy can cause long-term side effects (in some cases called late effects), depending upon the type and dosage of chemotherapy and whether it was integrated with radiation. These impacts might include any organ, including the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, liver, thyroid gland, and reproductive organs. Some types of chemotherapy drugs may also increase the risk of cancer later on in life.
Getting chemo during childhood likewise might put some kids at risk for postponed growth and cognitive development, depending upon the child’s age, the type of substance abuse, the dosage, and whether chemotherapy was used in addition to radiation therapy.
Report any side effects to your doctor so that they can be dealt with and your child made as comfortable as possible.
Taking care of Your Child
Your child may have lots of questions about cancer and its treatment. Be truthful when discussing it– talk about the disease in age-appropriate terms and encourage your child to share his or her feelings. And bear in mind that you’re not alone: Doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, child-life therapists, and other members of the cancer treatment group are there to respond to questions and support you and your child prior to, during, and after chemotherapy.
Kids who are scared about beginning chemo may take advantage of a trip of the health center or center ahead of time or signing up with a support group for families handling childhood cancer. Besides making treatment appear less frightening, fulfilling other cancer patients and survivors might help your family establish a network of friends and advocates handling the exact same issues.
Likewise keep in mind to look after yourself during your child’s treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask for aid from family and friends, both early in your child’s treatment and later on. Taking care of yourself will assist you to look after your child in addition to you potentially can.
When chemo is done, it’s still essential for the doctor to monitor your child’s health and development in follow-up consultations. During these checkups, the doctor will ask if there are continuing side effects and check for any signs of the cancer repeating.
It can be hard to cope with a cancer diagnosis, let alone take in facts about chemotherapy. Bear in mind that while it can be a long road, children and teens dealt with for cancer typically go on to lead long, healthy, and pleased lives.