Coping With Chemo's Side Effects

Hair Loss and Mouth Sores

Coping With Chemo's Side Effects

By Breast Cancer Connect Staff Published at August 15 Views 7,173 Comments 1

A necessary cancer treatment, chemotherapy carries with it distressing side effects. Among these, hair loss and mouth sores result because chemotherapy targets rapidly-dividing cells and doesn't discriminate between cancerous and healthy cells. Hair cells and the cells in your mouth both divide rapidly, leaving them vulnerable to the effects of chemo.

Although these side effects might seem an inevitable part of cancer treatment, you have options that can help you cope with these changes.

Dealing With Hair Loss

How Does Hair Loss Progress?

Hair follicles fall among the fastest-growing cells in the body. Normally, hair follicles divide about every one to three days. But chemo disrupts this course, destroying hair cells in the process.

You may lose some or all of your hair due to chemo, usually within a few weeks of starting treatment. Depending on the chemotherapy drugs, you might lose just the hair on your head, but you could also lose eyebrows, eyelashes, and the hair on your arms, legs, and underarms.

Fortunately, this hair loss is generally temporary. Most patients can expect to regrow hair within three to 10 months after treatment ends.

Can I Prevent Hair Loss?

Although some have tried, experts have yet to come up with an absolutely effective means for preventing chemotherapy-related hair loss. Some options that have been investigated include:

Minoxidil (Rogaine): Generally prescribed for pattern hair loss in men and women, Rogaine has yet to prove reliable in preventing hair loss during chemotherapy treatment. However, it may help speed up hair regrowth.

Cold Caps (Scalp hypothermia/Cryotherapy): Tightly-fitting hats worn during chemo treatment, cold caps are filled with gel that's chilled to at least negative 15 degrees Fahrenheit. This helps narrow blood vessels beneath the scalp, reducing the amount of chemotherapy medicine to reach hair follicles and, presumably, hair loss. However, it also increases risks that any cancer cells in the scalp will remain after treatment.

Managing Mouth Sores

How Do Mouth Sores Progress?

Damage to the cells in your mouth means your mouth can't protect itself from germs. This leads to sores and infections in both the mouth and throat. These red, swollen sores cause pain that can affect your ability to eat, drink, chew, swallow and talk. Not to mention, they can also lead to an oral yeast infection, especially if your immune system is suppressed.

Can I Prevent Mouth Sores?

Much like hair loss, no guaranteed means for preventing chemotherapy-related mouth sores exists. But you can reduce your risks for developing mouth sores. Talk to your doctor about how the following options might help your situation:

Tooth Care: Brush and rinse your mouth several times a day, making sure to avoid alcohol-based mouthwashes.
Eat Fruits and Vegetables: Enjoy a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, which contain nutrients that can help fight infections during chemotherapy treatment.
Take Acidophilus and Probiotics: Chemotherapy is tough on the digestive tract. Daily doses of acidophilus and probiotics help promote the growth of healthy bacteria you need for digestion.
Chew on Ice: During and after treatment, try chewing or sucking on ice, which can help prevent mouth sores.
Try Zinc Supplements: Studies have shown that zinc delays the development of mouth and throat sores and speeds recovery for any sores already present.
Take Medication: Repair existing mouth sores by taking Palifermin (Kepivance). This medication stimulates cell growth on the surface of your mouth, which decreases the likelihood that you will experience severe mouth sores in the future.

Do What Makes You Comfortable

Whatever your choices on coping with hair loss and mouth sores, do what makes you comfortable. Talk with your doctor before you take any supplements or make any dietary changes to ensure that these don't impair your chemotherapy treatment.

To learn more about this topic:
Tips for Starting Chemotherapy
Fighting Chemo Side Effects
Lower Your Risk of Infection during Chemotherapy

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