Managing Treatment Side Effects

The body’s reaction to chemotherapy, radiation, or targeted treatments depends on a number of factors such as length of treatment, dosage prescribed, and a person’s health history. Most side effects are short term, but some can last throughout your treatment and even for some time afterward. Although side effects can be uncomfortable or painful, doctors now have many ways to reduce and even prevent side effects from treatment.

The following are possible side effects you may experience and resources to help you manage:

Blood clots

People with cancer are at risk for developing blood clots for various reasons, but steps can be taken to prevent and treat blood clots.

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Bone issues

Cancer that starts in or spreads to the bones can lead to bone pain and an increase in risk for complications, including weakening of the bone, fractures, and high calcium levels in the blood. Cancer treatments may also affect your bones.

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Chemobrain

Problems with memory and concentration, along with a general feeling of not functioning as well mentally as usual, are informally referred to by patients as chemobrain.

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Dental issues

Side effects from cancer treatment may include tooth decay and other mouth issues, including dry mouth and mouth sores. It’s important to address any dental concerns you have, especially before beginning treatment, but also during and after with both your treating physician and dentist.

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Diarrhea

Defined as two or more loose bowel movements per day, diarrhea may be caused by some types of chemotherapy and radiation to certain areas of the body. There are many things you can do to help control diarrhea.

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Fatigue

Fatigue is the most commonly reported side effect of cancer and its treatment. Make sure to report fatigue to your health care team so that everything can be done to manage it.

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Hair loss

Hair loss from chemotherapy treatment occurs because hair follicles are weakened by chemotherapy, which causes your hair to fall out much more quickly than it would normally.

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Lymphedema

People with cancer who have undergone lymph node removal and/or radiation as part of their treatment are at risk for developing lymphedema, a painful swelling that happens when your body’s lymphatic fluid is unable to circulate properly and builds up in your soft tissues instead.

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Mouth sores

“Oral mucositis” refers to mouth sores caused by irritation of the mucosa—the soft tissues that cover the tongue and inside of the mouth, and can be a serious side effect of chemotherapy treatment.

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Nausea and vomiting

While many people who are treated for cancer experience nausea and vomiting, medicines exist that can help control these side effects.

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Neuropathy

Some people who receive chemotherapy experience numbness or tingling in their hands and feet, what doctors call peripheral neuropathy.

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Pain

If you are experiencing pain as a result of your cancer or its treatment, you should know that managing this pain is an important part of your overall care and should be brought to the attention of your physician. They may find it helpful to provide a referral to a pain management specialist.

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Rash

A type of targeted treatment that blocks epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFRs) often causes rashes and other bothersome skin conditions.

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Weight loss or gain

Cancer treatments can usually lead to weight loss, but people with cancer can also experience weight gain from chemotherapy treatment, steroid medications, and hormone therapy.

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