Common Cancer Treatment Side Effects and How to Manage Them
Certain side effects of cancer treatment can happen no matter which type of treatment you’re using. These are among the most common that you can expect to deal with at some point during the process.
Fatigue is a very common side effect of cancer treatment that occurs when a person doesn’t have the energy to do daily activities they would normally do. It can come on suddenly and feel very overwhelming. Sometimes, fatigue cannot be solved by resting.
Even after your treatment cycle ends, fatigue can last for months. However, it does eventually improve over time.
The best ways to help manage fatigue include maintaining a daily schedule, regular exercise, and drinking at least eight glasses of water every day.
It’s also important to keep realistic expectations in mind. While you might normally be able to cut the grass, do a few loads of laundry, and cook dinner after eight hours at work, it’s important to remember that your body needs extra time to rest when you’re sick. That way, your bodyit will be better able to fight your cancer more effectively. better. better.
Anemia is a condition that happens when your blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells. It’s a relatively common side effect of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and certain types of immunotherapy because these treatments can inadvertently destroy red blood cells alongside the cancer cells.
Depending on the type of treatment you’re receiving, your oncologist may recommend iron or vitamin B supplements to help your red blood cell count.
Many people find that they experience unintended weight loss while they’re undergoing cancer treatment. This is especially common for people going through chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or taking certain kinds of medications.
One common reason for this is that chemotherapy frequently causes loss of appetite and nausea, leading to weight loss. On the other hand, certain types of hormone therapy for treating breast and prostate cancer can cause unintended weight gain.
Your oncologist may be able to recommend adjustments to your diet in light of your treatment, or they can refer you to a dietary specialist to help you stay on track.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects associated with several different treatments, and sometimes even with the cancer itself.
To keep nausea under control, maintain a diet of cold, clear liquids during your treatment, and stick to foods you know you like. Most of all, avoid alcohol during every phase of your treatment to keep nausea under control. There are foods higher in acid content that may cause more nausea as well so a low acid diet is helpful. a Your provider may also prescribe nausea medications and direct you on how to take these.
Managing Side Effects Unique to Certain Cancer Treatment Types
Short-Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is well-known for having some adverse side effects that you may start to notice within a few hours or a few days of your first dose. These are some of the most common short-term side effects you may experience:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Hair loss
- Easy bruising
- Mouth sores
- Changes in appetite
- Mood changes
Maintaining a steady, healthy diet of foods that are easy to digest can help with some of the gastrointestinal side effects. However, with hair loss, it’s important to remember that your hair will usually grow back. In the meantime, you can also use wigs, hats, scarves, and other head covers you can use to maintain a sense of normality.
Long-Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Some side effects of chemotherapy can last for months or years. Many patients report these long-term chemotherapy side effects:
- “Chemo brain,” or difficulty concentrating and remembering things
- Fertility issues for both men and women
- Early menopause
- Hearing loss
- Loss of taste
- Nerve damage (neuropathy)
- Dental problems
- Increased risk of other cancers
Chemotherapy patients may experience some or all of these side effects throughout their lifetime. However, many of these are manageable or tolerable through fertility treatments, dental implants, and other methods as needed.
Short-Term Side Effects of Radiotherapy
During the process of receiving radiotherapy for your cancer treatment, you may notice the following side effects:
- Skin problems, including blistering or discoloration
- Hair loss
- Low blood counts
Long-Term Side Effects of Radiotherapy
Long-term side effects of radiotherapy can potentially take years to come up. Other long-term issues that have been reported include:
- Tooth decay
- Heart and vascular problems
- Increased risk of other cancers
- Increased risk of stroke
- Intestinal problems
- Lung disease
- Memory issues
If you begin to experience these issues after undergoing radiotherapy, contact the Radiology team and our team and we can help you with managing symptoms and side effects.
Short-Term Side Effects of Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy generally has milder side effects than chemotherapy or radiation therapy. However, there are some side effects that you might experience within the first few hours and days, including:
- Inflammation and itchy rashes
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low thyroid hormone levels
Fortunately, most of these symptoms are mild enough to be managed with over-the-counter medication. However, contact your cancer care team if your side effects are becoming unmanageable.
Long-Term Side Effects of Immunotherapy
While the long-term side effects of immunotherapy can vary depending on which type of immunotherapy you’re receiving, some have been prevalent in patient studies:
- Arthritis and joint pain
- Eye-related issues
- Pituitary gland inflammation
- Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid)
- Altered kidneykidhey function
- Ongoing rash that may require a longer taper of steroids
However, during the study, the vast majority of patients experienced only mild long-term side effects.
Short-Term Side Effects of Hormone Therapy
Every person’s experience with hormone treatment can vary, because everyone has slightly different hormone levels that can change from day to day. However, these are common side effects within the first few days:
- Breast tenderness
- Decreased sex drive
- Nausea or vomiting
- Erectile dysfunction
- Menstrual changes
- Hot flashes
- Mood changes
- Vaginal dryness or discharge
- Brain fog
Lifestyle changes can help with the management of some of these side effects, including reduction of alcohol and tobacco use and eating a balanced diet.
Long-Term Side Effects of Hormone Therapy
There are some long-term side effects associated with hormone therapy as a cancer treatment, which can be managed with lifestyle changes:
- Blood clots
- Changes in eyesight
- Increased risk of cardiovascular events
- Weight gain
- Memory and mood problems
Short-Term Side Effects of Targeted Therapy
Targeted therapy can have some serious side effects in the days and weeks following treatment, depending on the type of therapy you’re receiving and how your body reacts to it. Here are some of the most common side effects:
- Problems with blood clotting
- Yellowish skin tint
- Mouth sores
- Changes in the hair and nails
- Rash and dry skin
Most of these side effects can be treated with medication. Consult your cancer care team to learn which medications will work best for you.
Long-Term Side Effects of Targeted Therapy
With long–term treatments, patients undergoing targeted therapy may begin to notice the below side effects. However, it is important to note that some targeted therapy drugs have few long-term side effects.
- Bald patches or hair loss
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
To avoid these side effects from becoming a long-term issue, be sure to eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, avoid tobacco products, and maintain a physically active lifestyle.
More Patient Resources
It’s easy for those who haven’t experienced cancer themselves to forget that you have to deal with more than just medical effects. The emotional toll can be just as challenging as the treatment itself, especially if you have a family or friends who depend on you.
Our unique behavioral oncology service helps patients accept their diagnosis, take care of their physical and mental health, and stay connected with their families. This is mainly done through counseling sessions at our clinics with our expert psychologist who specializes in addressing cancer-related mental health needs.
CHC offers a specialized oncology specialty pharmacy with multiple locations in West Michigan. Our pharmacists work with your cancer care team at these specialized pharmacies to ensure you receive the best possible care during treatment.
Our highly trained pharmacists and pharmacy technicians provide medications for complex, challenging diseases like cancer. They specialize in long-term illnesses and can provide both IV and oral medications. These professionals will also work with your oncologist, nurse navigator, and other members of your team to provide the medication that’s right for you.
Your patient care coordination team at the Cancer and Hematology Centers includes a registered nurse who will act as your Nurse Navigator. They will help you understand exactly what to expect during every step of your cancer treatment. Your Nurse Navigator will also be in your corner as a patient advocate to make your experience more comfortable and convenient.
As your guide, your Nurse Navigator will help you interpret your doctor’s instructions, translate medical jargon, and help you keep track of every appointment and test to fit your schedule, in addition to connecting you with other members of your care team like social workers and behavioral oncologists and other providers you may see outside our office..
Every cancer patient comes to us with a unique set of circumstances. That’s why our oncology social workers work to connect patients and their families with the resources that will help them throughout this journey. This compassionate team can help patients address the following and more throughout all phases of cancer care:
- Financial assistance
- Community resources
- Disease-specific resources
- Local support groups
- Emotional and mental health support
- Caregiver support
- Medicaid and Medicare
- Social Security disability benefits
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights for employees
- Children’s needs
- Transportation assistance
- Palliative care concerns
- Advance care planning
- Advance directive creation
- Nursing home and hospice referrals
- Wish organization referrals
- Wig and prosthetic resources
- Senior services
All information shared with a social worker is private and confidential.
Learn More About Managing Cancer Treatment Side Effects with CHC
Our experts in cancer care are here to help you manage side effects during the treatment process and beyond. To learn more about our treatment options and manage your specific side effects, call us at 800-411-7999 today.
Important: Call Us First for These Side Effects
It’s important to keep your care team at CHC informed of any and all side effects you’re experiencing. Call us for same-day care if you’re experiencing any or all of the following:
- Fever, chillsd, or a temperature of 100.5° Fahrenheit or higher
- Vomiting or uncontrolled nausea
- Diarrhea not controlled with Imodium AD
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness, unsteadiness, or feeling lightheaded
- Mouth sores
Our Same-Day Clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Schedule an appointment for same-day care at 800-411-7999.