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Your kidneys, liver, heart and lungs and cancer drugs

Read about how some cancer drugs can affect your kidneys, liver, heart or lungs.

Many different types of drugs are used to treat cancer. Some drugs can cause changes in the way that your kidneys, liver, heart or lungs work.

The changes are usually temporary and stop when your treatment ends but some drugs might cause permanent changes.

Some chemotherapy or biological therapy drugs are most likely to cause these changes. Hormonal therapies or bisphosphonates rarely cause these problems.

Some cancer drugs should not be given at the same time as certain medicines for heart, kidney and lung disease. Before you start any type of cancer treatment your doctors will check whether you have any other kind of illness or are taking any other medicines or herbal remedies.

Even if a drug can cause these effects, it may not affect you that way. Drugs affect people in different ways and it is not possible to tell in advance who will have side effects. It depends on:

  • the drug or combination of drugs you are having
  • the dose
  • how you react to the drug
  • how you have reacted to drug treatment in the past

Your kidneys

Some cancer drugs can affect the way that your kidneys work. The drugs most likely to cause this effect are:

  • some chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin and ifosfamide
  • some biological therapy drugs
  • bisphosphonates

The effect is usually mild. If you are having drugs that might affect your kidneys you will have a blood test before each treatment to check how well your kidneys are working.

  • Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help protect your kidneys from the treatment.
  • You might have extra fluid through a drip for several hours before and after you have the treatment.
  • Your nurse may ask you to drink plenty of fluids and to keep a record of how much you drink.
  • You might be asked to measure the amount of urine that you pass and keep a record.

It is important to let your nurse or doctor know if you are not able to drink as much as you have been asked to, for example if you feel sick. It is also important to tell them if the amount of urine you pass goes down.

Your liver

Some cancer drugs can affect the way that your liver works. This is most likely to happen with some chemotherapy and biological therapy drugs. The effect is usually mild and usually goes back to normal when the treatment ends.

When you are having drugs that could affect the liver, you will have a blood test before each treatment to check how well your liver is working. If the blood tests show that the treatment is affecting your liver, your doctors might change the dose of your treatment or give you a different treatment.

Your heart

There are cancer drugs that can affect the way your heart works. The drugs most likely to affect your heart are some chemotherapy and biological therapy drugs. The effect may be temporary but can sometimes be permanent. 

Some cancer treatments might be combined together, such as chemotherapy with biological therapies, this can be more likely to affect your heart.

Before each treatment session you might have tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) to see how well your heart is working.

Your lungs

Some cancer drugs can affect the way that your lungs work.

The lung tissue can get thicker and less flexible and make it harder for you to breathe. This might happen gradually over months or years.

When you are having drugs that are likely to cause lung problems, your doctor will check how well your lungs are working during your treatment and afterwards. 

Some cancer drugs affect your lungs and you might find that you get breathless when exercising or walking uphill or upstairs.

Let your doctor or nurse know if you feel breathless.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.