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Managing the Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

For many patients, the most difficult part of battling cancer is coping with the side effects of cancer treatments. Many treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, bone marrow transplant and surgery, can pose significant challenges.

From fatigue and emotional stress to mouth sores, skin changes and hair loss, treatment side effects can be unpleasant to say the least. But there are many ways to manage — and even lessen — their impact on you.

Managing fatigue

Feeling extremely tired, weak, “heavy,” run-down and without energy? This is how many patients describe cancer-related fatigue. And because resting doesn’t always help, it’s often one of the most difficult side effects to cope with. Here are a few ways to manage fatigue:

  • Relaxation –Conserve energy and lower stress. Try to relax by listening to music, reading, meditating or practicing guided imagery. Your doctor may also suggest a form of light exercise, like yoga, to restore energy and help you feel better.
  • Plan time for rest and productivity – When you’re tired, take short naps (less than 1 hour) during the day. But be sure to keep them short so you can sleep at night. When your energy is higher, do the things that are most important to you.
  • Fuel your energy –Certain foods and drinks can increase your energy. High-protein, high-calorie foods can help you maintain your strength. Water, juices and teas can help you stay hydrated, while excess amounts of caffeine and alcohol will dehydrate you. A nutritionist or dietitian can be your greatest ally in the fight!
  • Talk it out – The difficult thoughts and feelings that come with fighting cancer can cause mental and physical fatigue. Talking with a counselor or psychologist can give you healthy ways to express your thoughts and manage the range of emotions you may feel day to day.

Coping with nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are among the most common side effects of some cancer treatments. Some people feel sick just anticipating their treatment, and many more experience nausea after treatment. Controlling nausea and vomiting will help you feel stronger, not to mention that it will also help you avoid malnutrition and dehydration. There are several ways to cope with and reduce nausea and vomiting, including:

  • Anti-nausea medicine – For acute nausea, many patients take anti-nausea medicine — even on their “good” days, when they feel well. Your RCCA doctor will work closely with you to find the most effective medication for you.
  • Stay hydrated – Drinking water, fruit juices, ginger ale, tea and/or sports drinks throughout the day can help prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid certain foods – Stay away from greasy, fried, sweet, or spicy foods if you feel sick after eating them. If the smell of food makes you nauseated, opt for cold foods without strong odors, or let food cool down before you eat it.
  • Treatment day tactics – Different strategies work for different patients. Some avoid getting sick by eating a small snack before treatment, while others steer clear of eating or drinking right before or after treatment.
  • Alternative care – Other methods of relieving nausea and vomiting include deep breathing, acupuncture, guided imagery, gentle exercise and many others.

Managing anemia

Anemia is a condition in which your body does not have enough red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of your body. Without oxygen circulating properly, you can feel tired, short of breath, dizzy or faint. Many people with anemia even experience headaches, rapid heartbeat and/or pale skin. A simple blood test can gauge your red blood cell count. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy can damage red bone marrow and cause anemia.

Countering the effects of anemia can be achieved through such techniques and treatments as:

  • Practicing relaxation techniques, such as listening to music.
  • Conserving your energy and learning ways to increase it through gentle exercise.
  • Consulting a dietitian or nutritionist to learn what foods and drinks are best for you.
  • Your RCCA doctor may order blood transfusions or red-blood-cell production stimulators, or may recommend vitamin supplements.

Expert, caring support to help you manage all types of treatment side effects

We addressed only a few side effects from a long list of potential issues. We know you may be in pain, suffering from mouth or throat problems, or unsure of how to manage anxiety and depression. Whatever you’re facing, RCCA is dedicated to helping you cope. Through our expansive network across New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland and the Washington, DC area, we have the resources to help you fight cancer and the many challenges that come with its treatment. We also provide integrative care to support you in every possible way.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call (844) 346-7222. You can also schedule an appointment by calling the RCCA location nearest you.

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