Although chemotherapy is given to kill cancer cells, it also can damage normal cells. The cells most likely to be damaged are normal cells that are rapidly dividing such as bone marrow cells, hair follicle cells, and cells in the reproductive and gastrointestinal tracts. Damage ranges from mild to severe.
Most of the symptoms are reversible, but some are cumulative and life threatening. Side effects are different for each chemotherapy drug, depending on the drugs formulation, the dosage, the route the drug is given, and how the drug affects the individual patient. Nurses play a vital role in helping patients recognize and report toxicities and in teaching patients how to decrease and/or manage chemotherapy side effects through self-care interventions.