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What Are the Side Effects of Chemotherapy for Lung Cancer

Patient getting chemo for lung cancer

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed or nervous about undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer. One of the best ways to prepare for chemotherapy is to understand why it is recommended and what side effects you can expect following treatment.

Every patient is different, but your care team will likely end your chemotherapy treatment by discussing possible side effects and providing medication and tips to help you manage any discomfort that may occur. You may be instructed to avoid contact with sick people, as chemotherapy will temporarily weaken your body’s immune system and increase your risk of infection, and you’ll likely be encouraged to drink plenty of water to help the cancer-fighting chemotherapy drugs travel throughout your body. You’ll also want to bring a friend or family member with you who can provide support during treatment and drive you home afterward.  

What are the possible side effects of chemotherapy?  

Chemotherapy attacks cancer cells, but it also impacts some healthy cells in the hair follicles, blood, mouth and digestive system. There are multiple types of chemotherapy drugs and dosages that are used to treat small cell and non-small cell lung cancers, so your side effects will vary according to the details of your treatment plan. Generally speaking, the most common side effects of lung cancer chemotherapy include:

  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Constipation or diarrhea  
  • Fatigue
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Easy bleeding or bruising  

Advancements in cancer treatment have made some chemotherapy drugs easier to tolerate than others in the past, but you should still expect to experience a few side effects. Your physician can prescribe medication to reduce chemotherapy side effects such as nausea and provide resources to help you cope with the physical and emotional changes lung cancer treatment can bring. Self-care measures like implementing a nutrient-rich diet, journaling and performing light exercise can also be helpful as you navigate treatment.

How does chemotherapy treat lung cancer?

Chemotherapy is one of the primary treatments for lung cancer. Depending on the goals of treatment, it may be administered on its own or combined with other approaches like radiation therapy or surgery. This systemic treatment delivers powerful, cancer-fighting drugs into the bloodstream that travel to the lungs and throughout the body to reach cancer cells that have spread (metastasized). Chemotherapy can be used to shrink a tumor prior to surgical removal, or following surgery to help destroy any cancer cells that remain.

You might receive chemotherapy medication intravenously or by swallowing a pill, and your oncologist will determine how many rounds (or “cycles”) of chemotherapy and what dosages are appropriate for your specific case. Each cycle is typically three or four weeks long and includes a rest period to recover from drug side effects.

Chemotherapy for lung cancer at Moffitt    

Moffitt Cancer Center’s Thoracic Oncology Program offers the latest innovations in chemotherapy to help more lung cancer patients achieve positive outcomes and enhanced quality of life. Our medical oncologists excel in determining the most appropriate drug combinations and dosing regimens for each case, and collaborate with other lung cancer specialists and supportive care professionals to help minimize side effects during treatment. Additionally, Moffitt’s award-winning lung cancer research program forefronts clinical trials that focus on novel chemotherapy drug combinations and other progressive treatments.

As a Moffitt patient, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge you need to make confident and informed decisions about your care. To learn about our approach to lung cancer treatment or to receive a second opinion, contact Moffitt at 1-888-663-3488. You may also request an appointment online by submitting a new patient registration form