Managing Side Effects
Before you undergo cancer treatment, talk with your doctor about potential side effects. Certain side effects can be unpleasant, but you must measure them against the therapy's benefits and the risks of not receiving the treatment. Today, many potential side effects are manageable when proper precautions are taken. What's more, not everyone experiences side effects and people have different degrees of physical - and mental - side effects.
For most patients, side effects are temporary and go away when the body adjusts to therapy or once treatment ends. On the other hand, some patients suffer symptoms that may require hospitalization until they subside.
Reactions to treatment vary from patient to patient. Reactions also vary depending on:
- the treatment and/or types of drugs used
- drug or radiation dose amounts
- the therapy's length
- whether you have other health conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease
Unfortunately, drugs that damage or destroy cancer cells also affect normal cells and may cause certain side effects. However, side effects are not always drug-specific and may be related to something other than the medication. While unexpected side effects can occur, most side effects can be predicted because certain drugs are more likely than others to affect specific types of body tissues, such as those that make up the nervous system, kidneys, bladder, heart and lungs.
Cancer treatment is most harsh on rapidly dividing cells, such as:
- hair follicle cells
- cells that line the gastrointestinal (digestive) tract
- stem cells that produce blood and immune cells
Common Side Effects
Common treatment side effects include:
- low blood counts
- nausea and vomiting
- hair loss
- weight gain or loss
- anxiety and depression
- sleep disturbances
- sexual disorders
- skin conditions
- major organ dysfunction or damage
- dental problems
- peripheral neuropathy
Work closely with your doctor and cancer care team to arm yourself with information about what to expect and how to cope, both physically and mentally. For some patients, side effects may last well after treatment is completed or may be permanent. To read more about lingering side effects, see Long- Term and Late Effects of Treatment for Adults or Long-Term and Late Effects of Treatment for Children.