Cancer Treatment Side Effects

Anemia and Infections

Anemia and Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy can damage your body’s ability to make red blood cells, so body tissues do not get enough oxygen, a condition called anemia. People who have anemia may feel very weak or tired, dizzy, faint, or short of breath, or may feel that their hearts are beating very fast.
Bone Marrow Suppression and Chemotherapy
Nearly all chemotherapy agents suppress the bone marrow, and that, in turn, causes a reduction in the number of blood cells. This raises the risk for anemia, infection, bleeding, and bruising.
Infection and Chemotherapy
To reduce your risk for infection, avoid people who are sick with contagious illnesses, including colds, the flu, measles, or chickenpox.
Neutropenia: A Vulnerable Time for Infections
Neutropenia is a condition in which the body has a very low number of white blood cells. Because white blood cells attack harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi, neutropenia increases the risk for infections.

Appetite Loss and Taste Changes

Appetite / Taste Changes and Chemotherapy
Treatment for cancer, as well as the cancer itself, can affect your sense of taste or smell. You may find that many foods seem to have less taste. Other foods, especially meat or other high-protein foods, may taste bitter or metallic.
Nutritional Management of Loss of Appetite During Cancer Treatment
Nausea, vomiting, or changes in food’s taste or smell all may contribute to a person's losing his or her appetite. Sometimes, the cancer treatment itself will make you feel like not eating.
Appetite Stimulation
To help stimulate your appetite, eat small meals five to six times a day. Drink juice or milkshakes between meals. Eat in pleasant surroundings in the company of friends or family.
Enteral Feeding
Nutritional supplements are available to provide protein, vitamins, and other nutrients your body needs for energy. If you can’t take these supplements by mouth, special tubes can be placed that allow you to receive the necessary nutrients without eating or drinking.
Parenteral Feeding
If you can’t tolerate food by mouth, or your bowel needs to rest, you may be given nutrition by vein. This special nutrition solution can be given into an implanted port, a tunneled catheter, or any other long-term catheter placed in a large vein.
Taste Changes
To help manage changes in taste, avoid foods and odors you find unpleasant. Brush your teeth before and after meals to keep your mouth clean.
Nutritional Management of Taste Alterations During Cancer Treatment
Try these ideas: Serve food chilled rather than hot. Try tart foods, such as oranges or lemonade, which may have more taste. A tart lemon custard might taste good and will also provide needed protein and calories.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety: Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Guided Imagery
These skills take practice, and the more you practice them, the more helpful they are. Some people find it useful to make a tape to listen to as they practice. A soothing tape of music may help.
When and How to Stop Antidepressant Medication
Deciding when and how to stop taking several popular antidepressants is something you should always discuss with your health care provider.
Taking Antidepressant Medications
If you have been asked to take drugs for your feelings of depression. To take antidepressant drugs safely, you will need this safety information.
Adjustment Disorders
Adjustment disorders are quite common in children and teens. They are characterized by an excessive reaction to stress.

Constipation

Constipation
Constipation means being unable to move your bowels, having to push harder to move your bowels, or moving them less often than usual. Constipation happens when you get less exercise, or when you eat and drink less than usual. Some medicines cause constipation.
Constipation and Chemotherapy
Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to help loosen the bowels. If you do not have mouth sores, try warm and hot fluids, including water, to help provide relief from constipation symptoms.
Nutritional Management of Constipation During Cancer Treatment
Check with your doctor to see if you can increase the fiber in your diet. If you can, try foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, dried fruits, wheat bran, and wheat germ; fresh fruits and vegetables; and dried beans and peas.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea and Chemotherapy
Your physician may prescribe a medication to control your symptoms, and/or, if symptoms persist, you may need fluid replacement intravenously (IV). It is possible to replace these fluids intravenously on an outpatient basis. When you are having chemotherapy, you should not take any over-the-counter medications for diarrhea without first consulting your physician.

Fatigue

Fatigue: Management
Fatigue can come and go or stay constant for a while. Fatigue from chemotherapy tends to occur a few days after the treatment, peaks, and then gets better before the next treatment. Fatigue from radiation may not happen right away.

Mouth Sores and Swallowing Issues

Nutritional Management of Chewing and Swallowing Difficulties During Cancer Treatment
If you have mouth problems, eat soft, soothing foods (at cold or room temperature), and puree cooked foods in the blender to make them smoother and easier to eat.
Managing Mucositis in Children
Mucositis can be a very troublesome and painful side effect of chemotherapy. Common symptoms include diarrhea and abdominal cramping or tenderness.
PEG Tube Placement
A percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube is a feeding tube that is surgically placed through your abdomen into your stomach.
Coping with Dry Mouth During Cancer Therapy
Dry mouth is a common complaint during some types of cancer treatments.

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea/Vomiting and Chemotherapy
After receiving a few treatments, some patients feel nausea and begin vomiting in anticipation of the next treatment. The reaction is usually caused by something related to the treatment, like the smell of alcohol or the sight of a medical uniform.
Nutritional Management of Nausea/Vomiting During Cancer Treatment
If you have nausea and vomiting, choose foods that are easy to chew, swallow, and digest, such as toast, crackers, and pretzels; yogurt; sherbet; skinned chicken; ice chips; and carbonated drinks.

Other Side Effects

Appearance: Taking Control During Treatment
Treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can damage a person's skin, hair, and nails. Many of these changes will go away after treatment ends. But such side effects, particularly hair loss, may also damage a person's spirits.
Hypercalcemia (High Calcium Level in the Blood)
Your calcium level can become too high if your cancer has spread to the bones, causing calcium to be released, or your cancer may release certain hormones that affect the normal systems that control the calcium level in your blood.
Struggling to Breathe: Tips for Managing Dyspnea
Dyspnea is the technical word for difficulty breathing. It's a common symptom in people who have lung cancer or have cancer that has spread to the lungs.
Hormonal Therapy: Managing Side Effects in Women
The female hormones estrogen and progesterone promote the growth of some breast tumors. Hormonal therapy may be given to block these hormones from stimulating tumor growth.
Coping with Dry Mouth During Cancer Therapy
Dry mouth is a common complaint during some types of cancer treatments.
Cancer Caused by Chemotherapy or Radiation
the likelihood of chemotherapy or radiation treatment causing a second cancer is rare. Nevertheless, cancer can occur in some instances, so it’s important to be aware of the potential risks involved before undergoing these cancer treatments.

Pain Control

Cancer and Pain Management
Oncology clinics usually offer several pain management options for any procedure that may be painful, such as a bone marrow aspiration or lumbar puncture.
Pain and Chemotherapy
The goal of pain control is to prevent pain that can be prevented, and to treat pain that cannot be prevented. It is possible that you will not have pain from chemotherapy treatments, but if you do, you can take steps to relieve it.
Palliative Care: Bringing Comfort
Palliative care focuses on improving a patient’s quality of life by improving the symptoms of his or her illness, such as pain, shortness of breath, and difficulty sleeping. It's used with a variety of ailments, including cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney failure, or congestive heart failure.

Sexual Issues

Sex and Cancer: Questions for Your Doctor
Questions to ask: How long will these changes last? What can I do about them? Is it OK to have sex during treatment?
Getting Help for Impotence
Nearly all American men experience occasional impotence, and an estimated 30 million suffer from chronic impotence. But despite its prevalence, the condition is treatable in most cases.
Dealing with Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction is when a man is not able to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for his sexual needs. It's often a side effect of the treatments for prostate cancer. Some men have chronic, complete erectile dysfunction, called impotence. Others have partial or brief erections.
Sexuality Issues for Women Being Treated for Cancer
Treatment for cancer can cause many changes that may affect your sexuality. It can also change the physical or emotional closeness you share with another person. Different treatments can cause different physical and psychological changes that can affect how you feel, look, and function. These changes may be temporary, or they may last a long time.

Skin Problems and Hair Loss

Skin/Nails and Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy can affect both the skin and nails. It may cause an increased sensitivity to the sun as well as redness, rashes, itching, peeling, dryness, or acne. Nails may become darkened, yellow, brittle, or cracked, and may also develop vertical lines or ridges.
Hair Loss and Chemotherapy
People often choose to wear wigs, scarves, or hats while or after losing their hair. If this is what you would like to do, pick them out ahead of time and start wearing them before your hair is completely gone.
Hair Loss--One Woman's Story
With chemotherapy, hair loss usually begins within two to three weeks after the start of treatment, and may continue over the next month. In some cases, total hair loss occurs in 24 hours.

Sleep and Neurological Issues

Insomnia
One common problem in insomnia is that the bed has become connected with things other than sleep. This makes it hard to use the bed for sleep when you want.
Hypersomnia
One side effect of cancer and cancer treatment is sleeping too much. This is called hypersomnia, meaning "too much sleep.''
Coping with the Cognitive Effects of Brain Tumors
Brain tumors may affect your cognition, which is your ability to think, reason, and remember. Many people with brain tumors have problems with concentration, language skills, and memory, as well.