Common Side Effects

You may or may not experience side effects from chemotherapy treatment. If you do, they typically develop 12 to 24 hours after the medication enters your system. Depending on the medication, side effects might include a sore mouth, diarrhea, hair loss or nausea. Fatigue is also a common side effect of cancer and any cancer treatment — especially for people receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy during the same time period.


Cancer-related fatigue is a persistent, subjective sense of tiredness related to cancer or cancer treatment that interferes with usual functioning.  Associated medical conditions may include anemia, nutritional deficiencies, pain, infection and thyroid disorders.  You may experience anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, lack of social support  and overdoing.

iPod_icon Cancer Podcast: An overview of cancer-related fatigue and strategies for managing and easing fatigue

Hair Loss

The same medications used to kill cancer cells can also damage healthy cells that grow rapidly. These include your hair follicles, which means that chemotherapy can cause all of the hair on your head — and on your entire body — to fall out. While this is a temporary situation, it can be difficult to face. Women, in particular, can mourn the loss of hair on their heads.

Resources for hair loss

Nausea, Vomiting and/or Diarrhea

Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea are among the most common side effects of chemotherapy. If experienced, the severity of these side effects is dependent on the type of chemotherapy medications administered and how each individual reacts to the medications. If needed, Swedish's chemotherapy-certified nurses will help manage these side effects through the use of anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medications. There are also steps patients can take to minimize these side effects. You will work closely with your nurse and doctor to learn about managing and preventing these symptoms.

Tingling/Numbness in Fingers or Toes

A few chemotherapy medications may cause "peripheral neuropathy," a tingling or numbness in the fingers or toes. This is usually temporary but can be frustrating if it affects the ability to do simple tasks, such as turning the page in a book or holding onto small objects.

Chemo Brain (Forgetfulness and Confusion)

"Chemo brain" is a term often used by patients to describe bouts of forgetfulness and confusion. While other factors like stress, metabolic changes and/or anti-nausea or pain medications may also play a part, "chemo brain" seems to be the applied label. If you experience this, be sure to discuss it with your physician and nurse.

Read about chemo brain and fatigue  in the Life to the Fullest newsletter.

Support Services for Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy

Naturopathic Care

Naturopathic care supports patients' immune system and reducing side effects. It ensures that you avoid nutritional supplements that could interfere with your cancer treatment or worsen side effects and help patients keep strong and healthy as possible during treatment and develop a cancer prevention plan after treatment.

Active Program

ACTIVE (Addressing Cancer Through Individualized Exercise) program reduces common side effects of cancer and its treatment, including fatigue, weakness, poor endurance, pain, nausea, anxiety, depression and loss of confidence.  Exercise increases strength and endurance, restores confidence, and is an important part of rehabilitation.

Counseling & Support Groups

Cancer can lead to countless challenges and difficulties for patients’ social, emotional and physical functioning. We focus on helping patients and families maintain the emotional well-being needed to cope with the stresses of cancer diagnosis and treatment through counseling and support services.

Nutrition Care

Nutrition care helps patients and families make the best dietary decisions during their cancer treatment, including how to deal with loss of appetite and adding protein and calories to your diet.

More Services for the Mind, Body and Sprit

At Swedish we believe in caring for the mind, body and spirit of our patients through diagnosis to treatment, and beyond. The Swedish Cancer Institute offers many therapies and services that can be integrated into an individual's care to complement their traditional medical care.

See also support and resources