Does Chemo Weaken Your Immune System – Faith Selczyk, DNP, AOCNP, Nursing, Oncology – Clinically Reviewed by Anne Pietrangelo – Updated May 23, 2023
After being diagnosed with cancer, your first reaction may be to ask your doctor about chemotherapy, also known as chemotherapy.
- 1 Does Chemo Weaken Your Immune System
- 2 What Is Chemotherapy?
- 3 Chemotherapy For Pancreatic Cancer
- 4 Targeted Immunotherapies: Monoclonal Antibodies, Checkpoint Inhibitors, Therapeutic Vaccines
- 5 How It Works
- 6 Skin Care Products To Use During Chemotherapy
Does Chemo Weaken Your Immune System
After all, chemotherapy is one of the most common forms of cancer treatment. But chemotherapy does more than just get rid of cancer.
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Although chemotherapy drugs are powerful enough to kill fast-growing cancer cells, they can harm healthy cells. It can cause various side effects. Depending on the severity of these side effects:
Many side effects become apparent soon after treatment ends, but may persist for months, years, or never go away.
It is important to discuss any side effects you experience with your doctor. In some cases, depending on your body’s response, your doctor may adjust the type or amount of chemotherapy.
Regular blood counts are an important part of chemotherapy. These drugs destroy healthy red blood cells and cause anemia.
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The chemicals also cause neurodegeneration, a condition in which the white blood cell count is low. White blood cells play an important role in the immune system and fight infection. If you are receiving chemotherapy, precautions should be taken to avoid exposure to viruses and bacteria.
Low platelet count, also known as thrombocytopenia. Cells called platelets help the blood clot. Fewer of them means you’re more likely to bruise and bleed more easily. Symptoms include:
Some chemicals can also damage the heart, which may lead to coronary heart disease or myocardial infarction. It can also disrupt your heart rhythm, a condition called arrhythmia. These conditions affect how effectively the heart pumps blood.
If your heart is strong and healthy when you start chemotherapy, these problems are less likely.
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The central nervous system controls emotions, thought patterns, and coordination. Chemotherapy drugs can cause memory loss or make it difficult to concentrate or think clearly. This is sometimes called “chemical brain.”
Chemotherapy drugs can cause a variety of other problems in your nervous system, depending on which nerve is damaged. Symptoms include:
Instability and difficulty with balance can also increase your risk of falling. Working with an occupational or physical therapist can help you improve your motor skills and flexibility.
When you take regular or large doses of chemotherapy drugs, the chances of pain and discomfort in your mouth and throat increase. Some chemicals affect your mucous membranes more than others. You may experience:
What Is Chemotherapy?
If you have difficulty eating or the treatment makes food taste unusual or unpleasant, it can lead to unintentional weight loss.
Nausea is another common symptom of chemotherapy, including vomiting, dehydration, and loss of appetite. Talk to your doctor about anti-nausea medications to reduce vomiting during treatment.
Even if you’re not hungry, continue to eat healthy. It may help to try foods that are soft and easy to swallow.
Eating small, frequent, high-calorie meals instead of large meals is a great way to increase your calorie intake. It also causes weight loss.
Chemotherapy For Pancreatic Cancer
Hair loss is probably the most well-known side effect of chemotherapy. Many chemotherapy drugs can affect the hair follicles and cause hair loss within days or weeks of the first treatment.
Hair loss can happen anywhere on your body, but it is most likely to appear on your scalp. New hair growth usually begins a few weeks after the last treatment.
You may also develop sensitivity to the sun and burn easily. You can help protect your skin by wearing sunscreen, long sleeves, and a hat when outdoors.
In addition, your fingernails and toenails may turn yellow and become brittle. In severe cases they may detach from the nail bed. It can help moisturize your cuticles and shorten your nails.
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Chemotherapy drugs change hormones in both men and women. In women, chemotherapy may affect the ovaries:
In men, certain chemicals can damage sperm or reduce sperm count. Like women, men can experience temporary or permanent infertility from chemicals.
Doctors recommend not getting pregnant during chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs can damage sperm and, if given during pregnancy, can harm the fetus, possibly causing birth defects.
If you are already pregnant when you are diagnosed with cancer, you still have options. You and your doctor should discuss the best next steps. Treatment may include surgery or other treatment options instead of chemotherapy.
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Although symptoms such as fatigue and anxiety can interfere with sex in both men and women, many people on chemotherapy can still have an active sex life.
The kidneys remove chemotherapy drugs as they pass them out of your body. Some kidney and bladder cells may be irritated or damaged during this process.
Some chemicals can cause your urine to be red or orange for a few days. You may also experience urinary irritation, which causes a burning sensation when you urinate and an increase in the frequency of urination.
Your doctor may recommend drinking plenty of fluids to help your system function properly.
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It is normal to lose bone mass as you age, but certain chemicals can increase this loss. In women, the chemicals damage the ovaries so they stop making estrogen. Low levels of estrogen can cause bone loss.
According to the National Institutes of Health, women treated for breast cancer have an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. The most common areas of the body for breakouts are:
Living with cancer and going through chemotherapy can affect your mental health. It’s normal to feel a range of emotions, such as:
Talking to friends and family can help you deal with your feelings. Your healthcare team can also recommend a local cancer support group where you can talk to others who have been treated for cancer.
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If feelings of depression persist, seek professional advice or talk to your doctor. Although emotional side effects are common, there are ways to reduce them and improve quality of life.
Some chemotherapy drugs can increase your risk of getting a second cancer. This is more likely to happen if you receive high doses of chemotherapy for a long time.
Side effects vary from person to person, so it’s hard to predict how chemotherapy will affect you. However, you can ask your doctor:
Once you’re familiar with the side effects you’ll face, you can prepare for them by asking for help with energy-consuming commitments like planning rest, vacations, or childcare after chemotherapy.
How It Works
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Our experts constantly monitor the health and wellness space and update our articles as new information becomes available. Cancer and its treatment can weaken the immune system. Try to avoid infections if your immune system is compromised.
If harmful organisms such as bacteria or viruses enter the body, you can get an infection. Your body’s immune system normally protects you from infection. But cancer and cancer treatment can prevent the immune system from working properly.
Bacterial infections can usually be treated with antibiotics. If the infection is not treated quickly, it can be difficult to control.
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The skin protects our body and internal organs from infection. Mucous membranes are also a protective barrier that prevents germs from entering your body. Mucous membranes are found in areas of the body that are more susceptible to germs, such as:
Your body produces fluids that contain special proteins and chemicals. If organisms enter your body, proteins attack them.
Blood and lymph cells are produced by the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Bone marrow is the smooth material between some of our bones. Lymphatic System: A system made up of organs:
Different types of white blood cells destroy organisms that enter the body. They travel through your blood or lymph vessels to the site of damage or infection. Then they destroy the harmful organisms.
Skin Care Products To Use During Chemotherapy
Some cancers, such as lymphoma and leukemia, can prevent the body’s immune system from working properly. For example, cancer can prevent the bone marrow from making enough healthy white blood cells.
Chemotherapy reduces the number of white blood cells that make up the bone marrow. This has a profound effect on the immune system. It lowers your body’s ability to fight infection during and after treatment. Chemotherapy is the most common cause of immunosuppression.
You are at risk of infection for 7 to 14 days after chemotherapy. This happens when white blood cell levels are at their lowest. This period is known as nadir. This may vary slightly depending on the medication used.
After the nadir, the number of white blood cells continues to increase. This should return to normal before the next chemotherapy treatment.
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Your blood will be checked before more chemotherapy to check for white blood cells
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