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Chemotherapy Side Effects and Enhancing Quality of Life

Going through chemotherapy can be an incredibly difficult and draining experience, both physically and emotionally. The side effects of these powerful cancer-fighting drugs can take a significant toll on your body and overall well-being.

However, there are steps you can take to help alleviate some of the most common side effects and maintain a higher quality of life throughout your treatment journey.

Coping With Chemotherapy Side Effects

Feeling Tired and Lacking Energy

  • Prioritise rest and listen to your body. Take naps or breaks when you feel tired, rather than pushing through fatigue.
  • Ask for help with daily tasks and responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to let loved ones assist you with chores, errands, or other activities when you’re feeling drained.
  • Stay hydrated and nourished. Drink plenty of fluids and eat foods rich in protein and calories to help maintain your energy levels.
  • Try light exercise if possible. Low-impact activities like walking or gentle yoga can actually help boost your energy when done in moderation.
  • Establish a regular sleep routine. Getting adequate, quality rest is crucial for managing fatigue. Avoid caffeine late in the day and create a calming pre-bed routine.

Nausea and Appetite

  • Eat small, frequent meals or snacks instead of large meals. Having something in your stomach can help prevent nausea, but large portions may be too much.
  • Avoid foods with strong smells that may trigger nausea. Stay away from cooking odours if possible. Cold foods tend to have fewer offensive smells.
  • Stay hydrated by sipping water, broths, or drinks containing calories and nutrients if you can’t eat solid foods. Options like smoothies, milkshakes, or juice can help maintain intake.
  • Try bland, easy-to-digest foods like bananas, rice, applesauce, or toast when nauseous. Avoid fried, greasy, or spicy items.
  • Don’t force yourself to eat favourite foods that now seem unappealing. Your taste perceptions may change during chemo, so honour your body’s signals about what sounds good.


  • Listen to your body and rest when needed. Don’t try to push through extreme fatigue, as this can exacerbate exhaustion.
  • Prioritise activities and pace yourself. Break up tasks into smaller chunks and alternate periods of activity with rest breaks.
  • Ask for help with daily chores and responsibilities. Allow loved ones to assist with cooking, cleaning, childcare etc. when you lack energy.
  • Try light exercise if possible. Low-impact activities like walking or gentle yoga/stretching may actually help boost energy levels when done in moderation.
  • Establish healthy sleep habits. Make sure you’re getting adequate nighttime rest and consider short naps/rest periods during the day.


  • Take your temperature regularly and know the signs of fever (100.4°F/38°C or higher). Keep an accurate thermometer at home and know how to use it properly.
  • Call your doctor/cancer care team immediately if you develop a fever, even during nights or weekends. A fever can be a sign of a potentially serious infection when your white blood cell counts are low.
  • Be prepared to go to the emergency room right away if instructed by your care team or if you are unable to reach them. Fever in a chemotherapy patient requires urgent medical evaluation.
  • Know when you are most vulnerable to infections causing fever – typically 7-14 days after a chemotherapy cycle when white blood cell counts drop to their lowest levels.
  • Watch for other potential infection symptoms like chills, cough, burning with urination, etc. and report these to your oncologist along with any fever.

Hair Loss

  • Prepare yourself mentally. Understanding that hair loss is a potential side effect can help you feel more in control when it happens. Consider cutting your hair short beforehand.
  • Use a cooling cap/scalp hypothermia. These caps cool the scalp during treatment and may help minimise hair loss for certain chemotherapy drugs.
  • Protect your scalp. Wear sunscreen, hats, scarves or wigs to cover your head and protect your scalp from sun exposure and irritation.
  • Consider head coverings. Wigs, turbans, scarves or hats allow you to address hair loss in a way that makes you feel most comfortable.
  • Be gentle. Use a soft brush and mild shampoo, and avoid heat styling, dyes or perms which can further damage fragile hair.

Mouth Sores

  • Rinse mouth with cool/warm salt water after eating to help soothe pain
  • Avoid acidic, salty, dry or crunchy foods that can further irritate sores
  • Suck on ice chips or apply oral pain relief medications as recommended
  • Practice good oral hygiene but use an extra soft toothbrush
  • Notify your cancer team if mouth sores are severe or prevent eating/drinking


  • Practice strict hand hygiene by washing with soap and water frequently
  • Avoid crowds and close contact with anyone who is ill
  • Take prescribed medications to help prevent infections
  • Watch for signs like fever, chills, cough and report immediately
  • Avoid potential sources of infection like undercooked foods

Digestive System

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids
  • Eat small, frequent meals high in protein and calories
  • Avoid greasy, fried, spicy or high-fiber foods that can irritate
  • Take anti-nausea, anti-diarrheal meds as prescribed
  • Notify your team about severe constipation, diarrhea or bleeding

Skin Reactions

  • Use mild, fragrance-free soaps and moisturizers
  • Protect skin from sun exposure with loose clothing/hats
  • Apply cool compresses or prescribed creams for rashes/irritation
  • Avoid harsh soaps, roughexfoliants, adhesives on sensitive areas
  • Report any severe rashes, peeling, pain or open areas to your team


  • Engage in light activities like walking as energy allows
  • Avoid public gyms/exercise classes to reduce infection risks
  • Build in frequent rest periods to combat fatigue
  • Stay hydrated before, during and after exercise
  • Discuss safe exercise plans with your oncologist

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MGM Cancer Institute

No 119 & 121, Nelson Manickam Road, Raajeswari Street, Rajaram Mehta Nagar,

Aminjikarai, Chennai – 600029