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Learn About Managing Side Effects©
Written by Cancer Center Staff

Source: Cancer Resource Room

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Side Effects of Treatment
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause side effects. Side effects occur when normal cells are damaged from cancer therapy. Side effects are different for each person, even if you receive the exact same treatment. Your doctor will tell you before treatment begins what side effects may result from your treatment. Your treatment team will work with you to lessen and control any side effects you may have.

Common Side Effects of Cancer Treatments

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) Symptoms
    • Chemotherapy and radiation can irritate the nerve endings in the gastrointestinal tract and brain. This causes nausea and vomiting.
    • If radiation is directed in the pelvic area, or if chemotherapy affects the lining of the intestines, you may get diarrhea.
  • Increased Risk of Infection
    • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can kill healthy white blood cells, which the body uses to fight infection.
  • Tiredness, Fatigue and Anemia
    • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can affect healthy red blood cells. If too many red blood cells are destroyed, it can cause anemia, tiredness, and/or fatigue.
  • Bleeding
    • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can also kill platelets. Platelets are cells that make your blood clot when you get a cut or a bruise. If too many platelets are killed, you have an increased risk of bleeding.
  • Hair and skin changes
    • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can destroy hair cells, causing hair loss.
    • The area of skin that receives the radiation may become irritated, red and sore.

Managing Side Effects
There are ways to help prevent and reduce side effects. While every person's experience with cancer treatment is different, here are some tips that help reduce and lessen side effects:

  • Talk with your doctor or nurse about how you are feeling. There are treatments to manage nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue/anemia, and skin irritations.
  • Drink a lot of water (at least eight (8 ounce) glasses) the day before, the day of, and the day after a treatment to help flush out your system.
  • Eat well, but do not worry if you are unable to eat for a brief period of time. Try to eat bland, small meals as often as you can.
  • Try to exercise. Even a little exercise is helpful. Although you may not feel like getting up, moving around will help your body recover more quickly. Try to walk a little, two or three times a day.
  • Wash your hands often, stay away from people who are sick, and stay away from crowded places. This will reduce your chance of getting an infection.
  • Get as much rest as you need. Plan your activities to save energy and forgive yourself if you don't have the energy to do everything.
  • Try to avoid any activity that can cause cuts, nicks, or bruises. It may take longer for you to heal.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse what type of products you can use if your skin is irritated. Avoid exposing your skin to extreme heat or cold. Avoid direct sunlight.
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