Treatment related side effects

When treatment kills cancer cells, it also damages healthy cells. This can cause a range of different side effects

Speak to your treating team about any side effects or symptoms you might be experiencing. 

When it is urgent that you contact the hospital for treatment related side effects


You may have one or more of the following symptoms of treatment related side effects. If so, please contact us straight away on (03) 8559 5000 and ask for the registrar. 

  • A temperature over 38˚C or fever and chills (these might show an infection) 
  • Diarrhoea that continues over 24 hours, particularly if watery 
  • Persistent vomiting that lasts more than 24 hours  
  • Nausea lasting more than 48 hours (about two days) despite taking antinausea medication 
  • Any abnormal bruising and bleeding 
  • Constipation: if you have not opened your bowels for more than two days 
  • A cough or shortness of breath 
  • A sudden decline in your health 
  • Any changes in mood including feeling withdrawn, depressed or anxious 


Red and white blood cells and platelets are specific cells made by bone marrow. Neutrophils are one type of white blood cell. Neutrophils are important in helping your body to fight infections.  

Chemotherapy can reduce the number of neutrophils in your blood. This means you are "neutropenic" and more at risk of infection.  

It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if you feel you are developing a cold or other signs of infection. Even if the symptoms do not seem severe to you, you are at much greater risk. If early signs are not treated, you may become very ill quite fast. Signs of infection include:  

  • Fever (temperature at or above 38˚C) 
  • Chills or sweating 
  • Sore throat or sores in the mouth 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Pain and burning when passing urine or frequent urination 
  • Diarrhoea or sores around the anus 
  • A cough or breathlessness 
  • Any redness, swelling, or pain, particularly around a cut or wound 
  • Unusual vaginal discharge or itching 

It is important to know when you are neutropenic and take measures to lower your risk of infection. 

Speak to your treating team about how to manage neutropenia. This includes getting advice on avoiding exposure to infection. It also includes how to prevent infections from occurring. 

Contact the hospital IMMEDIATELY if you have: 

  • A fever (temperature at or above 38˚C) AT ANY TIME OF THE DAY OR NIGHT 
  • Any of the other symptoms of infection listed above 


Be prepared to give the following information in relation to your treatment related side effects: 

  • Last treatment date 
  • Your highest temperature in the last 24 hours 
  • If you are having any shaking or chills 
  • Any other symptoms of infection you have had 
  • If you are feeling dizzy or light-headed 

Other common treatment related side effects 

Some patients experience many side effects, whilst others experience none. The side effects experienced depends on: 

  • The type and dose of drugs or radiation used  
  • The individual patient 

You may also experience side effects related to your illness because of medications. If so, speak to your treating team. They can offer advice, support and resources. They may also refer you to services that can help to manage or treat these symptoms.

Related links

Cancer Council

Pages related to treatment related side effects