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What Is Chemo-Induced Flushing?

July is a month with some unpleasant memories for me (I have many good ones as well), one of them being it was the month I began chemo. This is one reason why I revisit the topic this time of year. If you’re facing chemo soon, are dealing with it now, deal with it ongoing because you’re metastatic, or if you just want to learn more about it, your input and questions are welcome. 

When I learned chemo was to be part of my cancer treatment plan, the side effect I worried most about was losing my hair. That one definitely topped my worry list. Call me vain. I did/do not care. After that, it was feeling sick. I did not want to feel nauseous and have digestive issues, which we all know really mean bathroom problems. Like you perhaps, all I could think about were movies and TV shows I’d seen depicting chemo patients kneeling by toilets puking their guts out. Ugh…

So yes, no hair and puking. Those were my top side effect worries.

I was “lucky”. My nausea was kept under control pretty well. I did have digestive issues, but they weren’t horribly bad. Losing my hair, now that was horrible. I was not comforted by comments like, it’s only hair or it’ll grow back. In fact, I hated hearing things like that. I still cringe when I hear such things being said to chemo newbies.

For many of us, it is NOT just hair. 

And let’s not forget, some chemo drugs do not cause hair loss. So assumptions about how a person feels or how serious her/his illness is should not be based on how she/he looks. But that’s a different post.

If part of your cancer treatment involves chemotherapy, more than likely before you begin your regimen, you will be handed a sheet of paper outlining possible side effects to expect with your particular drugs. The list can be quite long and daunting, yet at the same time, not all inclusive.

Generally, oncologists and nurses don’t spend a whole lot of time going over potential side effects with patients, at least mine didn’t. Maybe they think if we don’t talk about side effects too much, we won’t experience as many, or they won’t be as bad.

A little more discussion might be in order.

Reputable sites such as Cancer.Net, the BreastCancer.Org and National Cancer Institute have general information about side effects most commonly experienced with chemo. However, it’s imperative to discuss with your oncologist what your side effects might be with the drugs you are taking.

Besides hair loss and nausea, there were a fair number of other side effects on my list of things to expect as well.

One side effect I experienced that was not on my list (I don’t think it was anyway) which caught me by surprise was flushing.

What is flushing?

Flushing is a temporary redness of the face and neck (in my case my entire torso as well) caused by dilation of blood vessels. This results in bringing more blood to the surface of the skin, especially in the face, making it appear red and feel hot. Certain chemo drugs cause the body to create extra heat and flushing is a reaction enabling the body to release that heat.

The first time I experienced flushing, it was quite startling. No, it was downright shocking! Well, it was to me anyway.

Following one of my first infusions, I looked in the mirror the next morning and yikes, I was as red as a tomato! I was also extremely hot, as if I had a high fever. (I wonder if I did). I felt as if I might explode.

I remember feeling like a volcano ready to erupt at any minute.

My chest (with those horrible tissue expanders) felt even tighter than was “normal” for me during that time. It felt as if I were in a vice grip. I looked and felt miserable. And yes, I was scared too. It felt like a hot flash on steroids.

Luckily, this particular side effect didn’t last more than a day or so following each infusion. I should’ve taken a picture of myself in my “volcano” state, but that never occurred to me. I pretty much avoided cameras and mirrors during that time, in fact, I still do.

Lots of women (men too perhaps) take photos to chronicle their cancer experiences. I didn’t do much of that.

Do/did you?

Flushing is just one more chemo side effect to be aware of and possibly ask about. Depending on the drugs used and how your body reacts, some will experience it, and some will not.

Like usual, if you know something might happen, it’s not quite as frightening if and when it does, right?

If applicable, have you experienced flushing?

If yes, were you forewarned about it?

What cancer treatment side effect was/is hardest for you?

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Volcano image via Flickr


What Is Chemo-Induced Flushing?


Read more about preparing for chemotherapy in my book, Getting Past the Fear:  A Guide to Help You Mentally Prepare for Chemotherapy


Getting Past the Fear: A Guide to Help You Prepare for Chemortherapy
My little guide can help you prepare for chemo. Click on image to learn more.

20 thoughts to “What Is Chemo-Induced Flushing?”

  1. I had radiation of the breast and underarm and the thing that surprised me the most is how long it took to heal (not hurt when someone hugged me) and that it feels harder than the rest of my body. I guess that’s the scarring from the radiation, but it’s been 5 years and it’s still the same. I also lost the feeling under my arm where the radiation was.

    1. Pam, I’m sorry you have those long-term effects from radiation. I’m always amazed at how I have no feeling in my breasts and yet, they’re still so uncomfortable much of the time. Go figure. Sounds like your situation is sorta the same. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Yes, the flushing was definitely a shock to me as i had never been warned about that one! And there were a few others I was not prepared for. 1) I was never told to avoid sex for 48-72 hrs. I learned this from reading a pamphlet after my first few treatments! Then I worried that I had passed chemo onto my husband! He was fine by the way. 2) The severe diarrhea and subsequent constipation threw me until I learned how to control it. And 3) when I switched from A/C to Taxol the bloody noses were totally unexpected and made for 12 weeks of yuck! When I told the dr she said,”Oh you have the Taxol nose!” A little warning would have been nice. God I’m so glad that is behind me! Now I just have the worry about a recurrence. My sweet niece just found out her bc has come back in the other breast. Prayers for everyone out there with this terrible disease.

    1. Donna, Yes, the things they don’t tell us. I think chemo is kind of a learn as you go sort of experience. We are all so different I suppose it’s not possible to forewarn everyone about every possible side effect. Still…I am sorry to hear about your niece. Hope things go as smoothly as possible for her. And for you too. Thank you for sharing.

  3. My worst was itching. No it was not on my list. The response from the chemo nurse was silence and then you’re itching? I itched all over my body, inside and out and it was so bad I couldn’t sit still. I stuttered when talking. Benadryl didn’t help. I bought every lotion, cream, spray I could find. Sunburn spray helped but not for long. On chemo day the Benadryl IV brought relief. And I was given a new prescription. This finally brought some relief. This itching side effect lasted 3 or 4 weeks. It was hell.

    1. Yvonne, I don’t think I’ve heard of the itching side effect before. Sounds miserable. I’m sorry you had to go through that. Thanks for sharing. Someone else might also experience it and reading your comment will hopefully help.

  4. I did not flush. I DID itch. especially my back, and I never knew that was chemo related so thank you to the person who stated that was a result. One GOOD result was that all my psoriasis went away. I’ve had it my entire life and suddenly my skin was clear. Of course the minute chemo was done it came back . . .

    1. Linda, You’re the second one to mention itching. Sounds awful. As I mentioned to Yvonne, her comment is already helpful! Your comment about your psoriasis disappearing temporarily reminds me that for years I had a planters wart on my foot. Chemo took care of that and it never came back. I had forgotten about that. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Mine were more like hot flashes, relatively short lived. But, what surprised me were the COLD EPISODES, where I just could not warm up, for about an hour before the hot flash. 2 blankets, sweatshirt, shawl and winter cap, huddled down, in June. Ugh.

    The other thing was diarrhea. For 5 days straight from day 5 after chemo. I could not leave the house, even taking meds for ir. One day I thought I was taking my diarrhea meds. Instead, I took 2 Ambien by mistake. Thank goodness, it put EVERYTHING to sleep! I woke up 6 hours later on the couch with the cup of tea i meant to drink spilled on the floor. I didnt know what had happened when I woke up. I saw the time and couldnt figure it out. Until I got up and looked at the bottle I had taken the pills from and found the sleeping pills. Since I rarely used them, 2 put me out so fast! LOL.

    1. Monica, Hot flashes and cold spells too. Yikes. And yes, the diarrhea sounds like no fun at all. Kinda scary that you took those Ambien pills by mistake. At least you got a good six hours of sleep that day. But my goodness…Thank you for sharing about your experience.

  6. Hi Nancy,

    I’ve never heard of flushing before reading this post. It sounds horrible, absolutely terrible. I’m sorry you had to go through all that. Geez, it seems the side effects of chemo never end. One symptom I was never told about was I had a feeling of my insides burning. I don’t know what it was, but I got some meds to better help me sleep at night when the burning sensations would occur. Chemo sucks. Cancer sucks.

    1. Beth, A burning sensation sounds awful too. Kinda sounds like internal flushing. Chemo sucks. Cancer sucks. That about sums it all up. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Hello Nancy,
    Like you, I was quite anxious about losing my hair when I had chemo 5 years ago. But unlike you and most women having chemo for breast cancer, it never grew back. That was a complete shock.
    I wear a wig and I find some comfort, answers and courage on the website (or taxotears – taxotere and cyclophosphamine being strongly suspected as the cause of this persistent alopecia for about 3 to 6% of women).
    I try to convince myself that this is the new “me” with a fabulous new look … while still searching for a wig that I really like…
    Fatigue is still an important issue.
    The new “me” feels sometimes more like the new “mess”.

    1. Dominique, I am sorry your hair did not grow back. A complete shock – no kidding! I’m glad you found a helpful website. Isn’t there a lawsuit or something about this issue with taxotere? I thought I saw something on Facebook about that. I might be mistaken though. Hair or no hair, many of us relate to how you put it – the new “mess”. Thank you for sharing. It’s appreciated.

  8. I too experienced flushing and thought first , fever. But it was normal so I started reading and found flushing can be part of chemo. Now no more worries over that 1-2 day response. I’m on CMF and have extreme light dizzy feelings. No reason per the Dr. this started after my 3rd treatment.

    1. MaryAnn, Interesting you had no fever. I wondered about that with the flushing. Extreme dizzy feelings sounds very unpleasant too. Please be careful when you experience that. My best to you as you continue treatment. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I had a little bit of flushing each time I had a treatment but it wasn’t bad enough to make me worry or even ask the doctor about it. I just figured it was one of the three pages of side effects I was sent home with.

    The hair loss was definitely the worst, with itching a close second (though I only had to suffer the itching with my first chemo treatment). I can’t describe the itching. It was a literal firestorm of burning and itching in a very delicate area, if you get my drift. I’ve had hives before and this was about a hundred times worse. It was weird because the symptoms seemed to be under the skin rather than on the surface. To make it worse, I couldn’t scratch because of the risk of breaking the skin and causing an infection. When I phoned the nurse about it she seemed puzzled and told me she had never heard of this side effect before, so she couldn’t offer any advice. For anyone that does suffer from itching, I found instant relief from placing a rough washcloth over the area and holding it there. It was so sensitive that if I didn’t need to go beyond just touching the skin with the cloth.

    With this post I am now wondering if I was suffering from internal flushing as you suggested to Beth. Strange that several of us on this post have mentioned itching yet the medical community seem to know nothing about it.

    1. Lennox, It is strange that several of you mentioned the itching. That sounds pretty awful. And the nurse coming across as puzzled. Hmm…and to offer you no advice at all, that seems pretty darn unhelpful. I’m glad you figured out the wash cloth idea to get a bit of relief. Thank you for sharing.

  10. I sympathize with everyone with what they went through or are going through. It is hard to explain to people that haven’t been through this. I was on Taxotere and Carboplatin. My doctor made it seem like it was going to be easy. I don’t know if it was to keep my spirits up, but when things started happening I wasn’t expecting, I got scared! I had almost every side effect you could get! I did have bloody noses constantly that I wasn’t told about. Plus my jaw hurt and my gums bled. Then I also retained so much fluid, that by the end of my treatments I couldn’t walk, bend my legs or move without pain. I felt like my skin was going to split open! Finally my doctor got me on a diuretic that is helping. I’m still having side effects and they are getting better, it just gets a little tiring not feeling well all the time.

    1. Heather, I am sorry you have had so many side effects and, of course, they are ALL scary. Having a bloody nose frequently sounds horrible. I’m glad the diuretic is helping with your fluid retention issues, but you’re right, it does get tiring when you just don’t feel well. Hang in there. You’ll muddle through. And you’re not alone. Thanks so much for sharing and good luck ongoing.

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