When a child has to undergo chemotherapy treatment for cancer, it has some side effects that can affect them.
In Spain, 1,200 new cases of childhood cancer are detected per year . 80% of children under 14 years old manage to overcome it. According to the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC) , chemotherapy is one of the most widely used therapeutic modalities in the treatment of cancer and encompasses a wide variety of drugs. Its objective is to reduce the disease, destroying those malignant cells that make up the tumor. Chemotherapy is administered in cycles, that is, periods of treatment are alternated with periods of rest so that the body can recover from the damage caused by the drugs used.
The drugs can be introduced intravenously, orally, in the form of tablets or sachets, and intrathecally, where, in the latter case, the drugs are injected into the lower back using the lumbar puncture technique. Being such a powerful treatment, a series of symptoms called side effects appear later. The most frequent are the following:
NAUSEA AND VOMITING ARE THE MOST FREQUENT AND FEARED
They can appear within a few hours after administration, or after a few days. To avoid the appearance of vomiting, you can put some recommendations into practice with your children, such as: eat 5-6 meals a day in small quantities, avoid unpleasant odors, eat food at room temperature, eat slowly, avoid foods rich in fat , rest after each meal and do not eat 2 hours before going to the hospital for chemotherapy.
With treatment, the functioning of your child’s intestine could be altered, losing the ability to absorb water and different nutrients. Therefore, at the time it appears, we must prevent our child from eating any food until after 2-3 hours. At that time, they can begin to drink liquids slowly and carefully, and in the case of ingesting any food, it must be derived from a soft diet.
ALTERATIONS IN FOOD PERCEPTION
Chemotherapy treatment can alter the taste buds located on the tongue and palate, causing a decrease in the taste of certain foods, or a metallic or bitter taste of them. This symptom disappears weeks after finishing the treatment. To do this, using plastic cutlery or using mild spices to prepare food changes the taste of food to a lesser extent.
ALTERATIONS IN THE MUCOSA OF THE MOUTH
The most frequent alteration of the mucosa of the mouth during treatment is mucositis , which consists of an inflammation of the mouth, appearing sores or painful ulcers. This occurs if the child has lower defenses than normal, so the mouth ends up being easily infected. The cure is usually quite complex, since several infections occur once the mucositis appears. To prevent it from appearing, we must ensure that our child has adequate oral hygiene and go to the dentist before performing the treatment.
During chemotherapy, it is important that our child uses a soft child brush, to avoid injury to the gum. Similarly, they should brush their teeth after every meal and floss to get rid of food that the brush has not been able to remove. If at a certain time our child has mucositis, we must maximize the cleaning of the mouth, washing them every 4 hours and rinsing with bicarbonate. It is advisable to eat soft and cold foods or at room temperature.
DECREASED RED BLOOD CELLS
The main function of red blood cells is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When there are few red blood cells in the blood, the so-called anemia occurs , which means that the different organs do not obtain enough oxygen to function properly, causing the person some weakness, fatigue, feeling of lack of air in small efforts, increases of heart rate, dizziness and pale skin. Thus, we must make our child avoid making efforts, reduce activities that involve intense physical activity and have a healthy and balanced diet.
DECREASE IN LEUKOCYTES AND PLATELETS
Leukocytes are the cells that defend us from microorganisms capable of causing an infection, more or less serious, in the body. Chemotherapy reduces the number of leukocytes, causing our child to be exposed to a higher risk of suffering from some type of infection than a person with good defenses. We must prevent our child from having contact with someone with some type of infection, such as the flu or some other virus.
In addition, we must be careful when vaccinating it, since its administration can cause a serious infection. If there is an open wound, we must wash it with soap and water and add antiseptic, and hydrate the skin very well to avoid skin injuries, as they are an entry point for bacteria. Platelets, for their part, are responsible for clogging (clot) and preventing bleeding in the event of an injury . Thus, to avoid the appearance of bleeding, we must make our child avoid activities where he can hit or cut himself. Even tooth brushing has to be gentle.
This side effect does not always appear, as it fundamentally depends on the type of medicine used. The fall of hair may occur in the head and in other parts of the body such as arms, legs, eyebrows, etc. both We must make our child feel that hair loss is unimportant. In this situation, we can tell you that the hair will grow when the treatment ends. We must give him support to make him feel confident and hair loss is not a problem to continue with chemotherapy.
CHILDREN WHO ARE OVER CANCER ARE AT RISK FOR LATE SIDE EFFECTS
It is estimated that while the majority of children who have overcome cancer show good health, at least 40% of them suffer significant disabilities that affect their quality of life. Late side effects depend on the child’s age, the type of cancer, and the treatments he received. Some of these effects are second cancers, heart problems (heart attacks) and lungs, learning problems (cognitive disorders), growth and development problems (short stature), fertility problems, affecting sexual development and the ability to have children in a future, bone problems (brittleness) and lasting nerve damage. That is why, currently, cured children have a long-term follow-up throughout life.
Dr. Tabriella Perivolaris, Sara's mother and fan of fashion, beauty, motherhood, among others, about the female universe. Since 2018 she has been working as a copywriter, always bringing to her articles a little of her experience and experience as a mother and woman.