Ovarian Cancer Chemotherapy Side Effects: What to Expect and How to Cope

June 6, 2024

Ovarian Cancer Chemotherapy Side Effects: What to Expect and How to Cope

Chemotherapy, a drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells in your body, is a crucial treatment for ovarian cancer, but it can also cause various side effects. Understanding these potential ovarian cancer chemotherapy side effects can help patients better prepare for and manage them throughout the treatment journey. 

This article will discuss the common side effects of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, including those specific to intraperitoneal chemotherapy, and provide insights on how to cope with them.

What are the Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer?

Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer can lead to several side effects, some of which are more common than others. These may include:

  • Fatigue: Feeling tired and weak is a frequent side effect of chemotherapy, affecting up to 80% of patients. Listen to your body and rest when needed.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Many chemotherapy drugs can cause nausea and vomiting. Anti-nausea medications can help manage these symptoms.
  • Changed bowel habits: Chemotherapy may cause constipation or diarrhea. Inform your healthcare team if you experience these changes.
  • Joint and muscle pain: Some patients may experience pain similar to flu-like symptoms, which usually subsides within a few days.
  • Increased risk of infections: Chemotherapy can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections. Contact your doctor immediately if you have signs of infection, such as fever or chills.
  • Hair loss: Depending on the chemotherapy drugs used, you may experience temporary hair loss. This side effect is seen in about 65% of patients and usually grows back after treatment ends.
  • Mouth sores: Some chemotherapy drugs can cause painful sores or ulcers in the mouth, making it difficult to eat or drink. Your healthcare team can recommend strategies to manage this side effect, such as using a soft-bristled toothbrush and avoiding spicy or acidic foods.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Some chemotherapy drugs, particularly platinum-based agents like cisplatin as well as taxanes like paclitaxel, can cause numbness or tingling in your hands and feet. Notify your doctor if you experience these symptoms, as they may need to adjust your treatment plan.

Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer: Side Effects

Intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy involves delivering chemotherapy drugs directly into the abdominal cavity. While this method can be an effective ovarian cancer treatment, it may cause additional side effects compared to intravenous (IV) chemotherapy.

Patients receiving IP chemotherapy may experience increased abdominal pain and more severe nausea and vomiting. These side effects can be intense and may require adjustments to the treatment plan or additional supportive care measures. A study found that 60% of patients receiving IP chemotherapy experienced abdominal pain, compared to 26% receiving IV chemotherapy.

Managing Side Effects of Ovarian Cancer Chemotherapy

There are several ways to manage the side effects of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer:

  • Medications: Your healthcare team may prescribe medications to prevent or reduce side effects like nausea and vomiting. These may include antiemetics, such as ondansetron or aprepitant.
  • Dietary changes: Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated can help alleviate some side effects. A nutritionist can provide personalized recommendations. Consider eating smaller, more frequent meals and avoiding spicy or acidic foods if you experience mouth sores.
  • Dental care: Before starting chemotherapy, have your teeth professionally cleaned to help prevent infections in the mouth. Maintain good oral hygiene throughout treatment, using a soft-bristled toothbrush and mild toothpaste.
  • Cold capping: Wearing a cold cap during chemotherapy sessions can help prevent hair loss by reducing blood flow to the scalp. This minimizes the amount of chemotherapy drugs reaching the hair follicles.
  • Cold socks and hand caps: Wearing frozen socks and gloves during chemotherapy infusions can help alleviate peripheral neuropathy symptoms and may reduce the risk of developing more severe symptoms in the hands and feet.
  • Complementary therapies: Acupuncture, massage, and other complementary therapies may help manage pain, nausea, and fatigue. Discuss these options with your healthcare team to ensure they are safe and appropriate for you.
  • Communication: Regularly discussing your side effects with your healthcare team is essential for proper management and adjustments to your treatment plan. Don’t hesitate to report any new or worsening symptoms.

Long-Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer

While most side effects of chemotherapy are temporary, some may persist or develop long after treatment ends. These may include:

  • Permanent nerve damage (neuropathy): Some patients may experience lasting numbness, tingling, or pain in their hands and feet. This can affect about 10-20% of patients long-term.
  • Hearing loss (ototoxicity): The chemotherapy drug cisplatin can sometimes cause permanent hearing loss.
  • Increased risk of bone marrow cancers: In rare cases, chemotherapy may increase the risk of developing bone marrow cancers like myelodysplastic syndrome or acute myeloid leukemia.
  • Early menopause and infertility: For ovarian cancer patients, early menopause and infertility are more often a direct result of the surgical removal of the ovaries, rather than a side effect of chemotherapy. However, it’s important to note that if a woman with ovarian cancer has not undergone oophorectomy surgery, or if only one ovary was removed, chemotherapy could still potentially cause early menopause and infertility.

Coping with Side Effects and Finding Support

Dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy can be emotionally challenging. It’s important to remember that you are not alone in this journey. Support groups and resources, such as those offered by Not These Ovaries, can provide valuable information and emotional support.

Practicing self-care during chemotherapy is also crucial. This may include engaging in gentle exercise, pursuing hobbies, or spending time with loved ones. Be kind to yourself and prioritize your well-being throughout your treatment.

While the side effects of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer can be daunting, understanding what to expect can help you better prepare for and manage them. Remember to communicate openly with your healthcare team about any side effects you experience, as they can often provide solutions or adjustments to your treatment plan.

Despite the challenges posed by side effects, chemotherapy remains a vital tool in treating ovarian cancer. By working closely with your healthcare team and seeking support when needed, you can navigate this journey with greater confidence and resilience.