Common Side-Effects of Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy (part 1)

Cancer is a major public health problem in most developed countries; however, there have been notable improvements in the survival rate of patients over the past three decades owing to early detection and progress in medical treatment.

A substantial number of patients with cancer receive chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy and benefit from treatment with anti-cancer drugs. However, because of their toxic effects on normal cells/tissues, anticancer drugs cause many side effects with a variety of symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, anorexia, diarrhoea, oral mucositis, and numbness. These side effects often compromise patients’ quality of life (QOL) and sometimes make it difficult to continue chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy. Although many valuable strategies have been developed to treat or prevent these side effects, they are still insufficient.

Alternative approaches to treat or prevent the side-effects as listed below, are promoted at Hope Spring. • Nausea and vomiting • Constipation • Stomach pain • Reduced appetite • Weight loss • Oral sores • Neuropathy • Neutropenia • nerve and muscle problems

Natural Remedies for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced side effects at Hope Spring

Short-term side effects are those that occur during treatment and generally resolve within months of the completion of the therapy and affect up to 60% of patients. Whilst there is limited research on the potential benefits of natural remedies some studies suggest that certain remedies may be helpful in preventing or treating side effects.

Nausea and Vomiting

Chemotherapy drugs can cause nausea and vomiting, which may start within the first few hours after treatment and last approximately 24 hours. In some cases, symptoms may start more than 24 hours after treatment and last a few days (known as delayed nausea and vomiting).

Ginger. Ginger is often recommended in our treatment plans to alleviate nausea in people undergoing chemotherapy. Ginger contains oleoresins, substances that influence the muscles of the digestive system. Ginger also has anti-inflammatory effects in the body. A 2009 study of over 600 cancer patients found that a supplement of ginger reduced chemotherapy-induced nausea by 40 percent.

How much should you take? Take 250mg ginger supplement 2 to 4 times a day. [equivalent to approximately ¼ teaspoon of dried ginger or ½ teaspoon of fresh ginger daily]. Crystallised ginger contains around 500mg of ginger per square inch. Ginger tea made with ¼ teaspoon of ginger contains approximately 250mg.

You are encouraged to talk with your oncologist before using ginger during cancer treatment, as ginger may have properties that could be harmful for some people based on their medication.

Acupressure. Evidence is found that acupressure (a pressure point therapy commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine) could reduce the severity of acute and delayed nausea.

Where do you apply pressure to reduce nausea? Pressure Point P-6 (Neiguan) is located on your inner arm near your wrist. Putting pressure on this point can help relieve nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy. Position your hand so that your fingers are pointing up and your palm is facing you.

Peppermint. This powerful essential oil may reduce the intensity of nausea and frequency of vomiting within the first 24 hours after chemo.

How do you use it? Massage several drops on your abdomen, place a drop on wrists or inhale to soothe motion sickness or general nausea. Drinking mint tea has long been the antidote to an upset stomach, whilst inhaling peppermint oil is also said to help curb the appetite by triggering a sense of fullness.

MOUTH SORES (Oral Mucositis)

Mouth sores or soreness in the mouth occurs because of the chemotherapy drugs on cells lining the inside of the mouth.

Oral Cryotherapy. The topical application of ice (known as "cryotherapy") is thought to prevent mouth sores in people receiving fluorouracil (5-FU) chemotherapy. Oral cryotherapy involves cooling the mouth with something cold like ice, ice-cold water, popsicles, or ice cream. The cold temperature constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the mouth, lessening the amount of chemotherapy drugs that reach the mouth.

Although oral cryotherapy is a simple, low-cost intervention, it isn't right for everyone and may not be recommended for people taking oxaliplatin. We advise you consult with your oncologist before trying oral cryotherapy.

Raw Honey. Honey has been found to decrease treatment interruptions, weight loss, and delayed the onset of oral mucositis. As raw honey may promote cavities, our patients are often advised to use a non-flouride toothpaste after each application and to follow proper oral hygiene.

Should you use Manuka honey? Manuka honey was not well-tolerated in some clinical trials, leading to nausea and vomiting. If this is the case for you, we recommend using organic unfiltered and unpasteurised honey, as it retains all the precious nutrients which are normally lost through heating and filtering.

Topical Vitamin E. An antioxidant, vitamin E paste or supplement applied inside the mouth may reduce the severity of mucositis during cancer therapy