Cancer treatments can cause side effects—problems that occur when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Side effects vary from person to person, even among those receiving the same treatment. Some people have very few side effects while others have many. The type of treatment(s) you receive, as well as the amount or frequency of the treatment, your age, and other health conditions you have may also factor into the side effects you may have.
Before you start treatment, ask your health care team what side effects you are likely to have. Learn about steps you can take, as well as supportive care that you will receive, to lessen side effects during and after treatment. Speak up about any side effects you have and changes you notice, so your health care team can treat or help you manage them.
Common side effects caused by cancer treatment include:
Anemia is a condition that can make you feel very tired, short of breath, and lightheaded. Other signs of anemia may include feeling dizzy or faint, headaches, a fast heartbeat, and/or pale skin.
Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, as well as cancers that affect the bone marrow, can cause anemia. When you are anemic, your body does not have enough red blood cells. Red blood cells are the cells that that carry oxygen from the lungs throughout your body to help it work properly. You will have blood tests to check for anemia. Treatment for anemia is also based on your symptoms and on what is causing the anemia.
Ways to Manage
Here are some steps you can take if you have fatigue caused by anemia:
Save your energy and ask for help. Choose the most important things to do each day. When people offer to help, let them do so. They can take you to the doctor, make meals, or do other things you are too tired to do.
Balance rest with activity. Take short naps during the day, but keep in mind that too much bed rest can make you feel weak. You may feel better if you take short walks or exercise a little every day.
Eat and drink well. Talk with your doctor, nurse, or a registered dietitian to learn what foods and drinks are best for you. You may need to eat foods that are high in protein or iro
Cancer treatments may lower your appetite or change the way food tastes or smells. Side effects such as mouth and throat problems, or nausea and vomiting can also make eating difficult. Cancer-related fatigue can also lower your appetite.
Talk with your health care team if you are not hungry or if your find it difficult to eat. Don’t wait until you feel weak, have lost too much weight, or are dehydrated, to talk with your doctor or nurse. It’s important to eat well, especially during treatment for cancer.
•Bleeding and Bruising (Thrombocytopenia)
Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and targeted therapy, can increase your risk of bleeding and bruising. These treatments can lower the number of platelets in the blood. Platelets are the cells that help your blood to clot and stop bleeding. When your platelet count is low, you may bruise or bleed a lot or very easily and have tiny purple or red spots on your skin. This condition is called thrombocytopenia. It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if you notice any of these changes.
Call your doctor or nurse if you have more serious problems, such as:
Bleeding that doesn’t stop after a few minutes; bleeding from your mouth, nose, or when you vomit; bleeding from your vagina when you are not having your period (menstruation); urine that is red or pink; stools that are black or bloody; or bleeding during your period that is heavier or lasts longer than normal.
Head or vision changes such as bad headaches or changes in how well you see, or if you feel confused or very sleepy.
Constipation is when you have infrequent bowel movements and stool that may be hard, dry, and difficult to pass. You may also have stomach cramps, bloating, and nausea when you are constipated.
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can cause constipation. Certain medicines (such as pain medicines), changes in diet, not drinking enough fluids, and being less active may also cause constipation.
There are steps you can take to prevent constipation. It is easier to prevent constipation than to treat its complications which may include fecal impaction or bowel obstruction.
Diarrhea means having bowel movements that are soft, loose, or watery more often than normal. If diarrhea is severe or lasts a long time, the body does not absorb enough water and nutrients. This can cause you to become dehydrated or malnourished. Cancer treatments, or the cancer itself, may cause diarrhea or make it worse. Some medicines, infections, and stress can also cause diarrhea. Tell your health care team if you have diarrhea.
Diarrhea that leads to dehydration (the loss of too much fluid from the body) and low levels of salt and potassium (important minerals needed by the body) can be life threatening. Call your health care team if you feel dizzy or light headed, have dark yellow urine or are not urinating, or have a fever of 100.5 °F (38 °C) or higher.
Edema, a condition in which fluid builds up in your body’s tissues, may be caused by some types of chemotherapy, certain cancers, and conditions not related to cancer.
Signs of edema may include:
swelling in your feet, ankles, and legs
swelling in your hands and arms
swelling in your face or abdomen
skin that is puffy, shiny, or looks slightly dented after being pressed
shortness of breath, a cough, or irregular heartbeat
Tell your health care team if you notice swelling. Your doctor or nurse will determine what is causing your symptoms, advise you on steps to take, and may prescribe medicine.
Some problems related to edema are serious. Call your doctor or nurse if you feel short of breath, have a heartbeat that seems different or is not regular, have sudden swelling or swelling that is getting worse or is moving up your arms or legs, you gain weight quickly, or you don’t urinate at all or urinate only a little.
•FatigueFatigue is a common side effect of many cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, bone marrow transplant, and surgery. Conditions such as anemia, as well as pain, medications, and emotions, can also cause or worsen fatigue.
People often describe cancer-related fatigue as feeling extremely tired, weak, heavy, run down, and having no energy. Resting does not always help with cancer-related fatigue. Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most difficult side effects for many people to cope with.
Tell your health care team if you feel extremely tired and are not able to do your normal activities or are very tired even after resting or sleeping. There are many causes of fatigue. Keeping track of your levels of energy throughout the day will help your doctor to assess your fatigue. Write down how fatigue affects your daily activities and what makes the fatigue better or worse.
•Hair Loss (Alopecia)Some types of chemotherapy cause the hair on your head and other parts of your body to fall out. Radiation therapy can also cause hair loss on the part of the body that is being treated. Hair loss is called alopecia
•Infection and NeutropeniaAn infection is the invasion and growth of germs in the body, such as bacteria, viruses, yeast, or other fungi. An infection can begin anywhere in the body, may spread throughout the body, and can cause one or more of these signs:
fever of 100.5 °F (38 °C) or higher or chills
cough or sore throat
ear pain, headache or sinus pain, or a stiff or sore neck
sores or white coating in your mouth or on your tongue
swelling or redness, especially where a catheter enters your body
urine that is bloody or cloudy, or pain when you urinate
Other Side Effects Can include:
•Memory or Concentration Problems
•Mouth and Throat Problems
•Nausea and Vomiting
•Nerve Problems (Peripheral Neuropathy)
•Sexual and Fertility Problems (Men)
•Sexual and Fertility Problems (Women)
•Skin and Nail Changes
•Urinary and Bladder Problems