Fatal Chemotherapy Side Effects


Chemotherapy can cure cancer in some patients. It can extend life in others. And, in some patients, it can be fatal.

Such is the paradox of chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy was developed with a very broad solution in mind: what chemicals kill cancer cells but can be tolerated by humans? Researchers tested thousands of chemicals in the 1950s and 1960s, looking for a chemical that would kill cells in the human body, but not too many cells.

After all, chemotherapy has no idea if it is killing healthy cells or cancer cells. It is an indiscriminate treatment. Consequently, it can kill or negatively affect healthy cells and sometimes lead to fatal events. A handful of them are listed below.

Secondary Cancer

Chemotherapy can cure one cancer and cause the development of a new cancer, which may or may not prove fatal.

Tumor lysis syndrome

Tumor lysis syndrome is a metabolic crisis that occurs when cancer cells die in large quantities, sometimes as a result of chemotherapy (this is generally more true for solid tumor cancers than blood cancers) or other cytotoxic measures. The kidneys become overwhelmed and can fail.

One known potential side effect of the monoclonal antibody Rituxan is tumor lysis syndrome.


There are some chemotherapy drugs that can sufficiently damage the heart so as to lead to a fatal event. Generally, these drugs fall under the category of anthracyclines. A commonly used anthracycline in lymphoma treatments is doxorubicin.

Febrile neutropenia

Some chemotherapy treatments can deplete patients of healthy B-lymphocytes. As a consequence, they become vulnerable to infections that their body cannot fight off. This is more true in older patients than younger ones. One sign of such an infection is a high fever, known in this instance as febrile neutropenia.

Allergic reaction

There is always a chance that a patient may be allergic to a certain chemotherapy drug and will suffer an allergic reaction upon receiving it. Such a reaction can often be mitigated by medical personnel since patients receive chemotherapy under the supervision of medical professionals.

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