Ways to Minimize Side Effects from Cancer Treatment
Because of advances in cancer treatment, more and more people can expect to reach remission or to live a long life with cancer. This is wonderful news! However, going through cancer treatment often isn’t easy. Cancer medications and radiation treatments can cause a variety of side effects that can be difficult to deal with. Here are some things you can do at home or with the help of your doctor to minimize side effects from cancer treatment.
Appetite Loss. People being treated for cancer often don’t feel hungry. But when you don’t get enough nutrients, you can become weak, dehydrated, or lose too much weight. If you are experiencing appetite loss from cancer treatment, try these tips:
- Drink lots of liquids. If eating a full meal seems too much, opt for smoothies, healthy shakes, broths, and plenty of water.
- Choose high-nutrient foods. If you are eating less, it’s more important than ever to focus on healthy, nutrient-dense foods that are high in protein and calories. Fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains are good choices, along with modest amounts of meat and dairy products. Arizona Oncology offers nutrition services to help with appetite loss and other nutritional issues during cancer treatment. Talk to your treatment team for more information
- Eat your biggest meal when you are most hungry. If you don’t ever feel hungry, try eating several small meals or snacking throughout the day.
Bleeding and Bruising. Some cancer treatments make you more prone to bruises or bleeding by lowering the platelet count in your blood. Some things you can do to reduce your risk of bruising or bleeding include:
- Avoid certain medications. Common, over-the-counter medications that increase bleeding risk are ibuprofen and aspirin. Your doctor can provide you with a more comprehensive list.
- Brush your teeth gently. Make sure your toothbrush is labeled “soft”.
- Use an electric shaver. This will avoid you nicking your skin with a razor.
- Be extra careful. Take extra care when you are in the kitchen, doing sports, or working with tools.
Nausea and Vomiting. Feeling sick to your stomach or vomiting are common side effects of cancer treatment. Depending on what is causing the upset, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following steps:
- Anti-nausea medication. Nausea and vomiting can be caused by different things, so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Your doctor will recommend a medication and let you know when and how often to take it. You may need to take the medication even on days when you don’t feel sick. Tell your doctor if you aren’t getting relief, because a different medication may work better for you.
- Avoid certain foods. Greasy, fried, spicy, or sweet foods may make you feel sick. Eating foods cold can be easier on your stomach. Sometimes the smell of certain foods alone can upset your system. If this is the case, consider asking someone else to prepare your food.
- Time your meals around your treatments. Pay attention to how eating before treatments affects you. For some people, a small snack before treatment helps calm their stomach, while others need to avoid eating before treatment altogether. Wait at least an hour after treatments before eating or drinking.
- Complementary medicine. Acupuncture, deep breathing, relaxation techniques, hypnosis, and guided imagery are complementary practices that may help with nausea and vomiting. Ask your treatment team for more information on these services if you are interested in trying one of these therapies
Skin and Nail Changes. Radiation, chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy can all cause skin-related changes. Depending on the treatment type, these can show up as dryness, itchiness, irritation, rashes, or blisters. It is important to tell your doctor about any skin changes you experience. At home, the following tips can help minimize skin and nail issues related to cancer treatment:
- Use mild soaps. Mild, fragrance- and dye-free soaps are best for irritated skin. Your nurse can recommend specific skin products.
- Moisturize. Moisturize after showers while your skin is still wet. Your nurse can recommend specific moisturizers and ointments to deal with especially dry, irritated skin.
- Use warm, not hot water.
- Wear gloves.
- Don’t get a manicure or pedicure during treatment.
- Use medications for rashes if your doctor recommends them.
Insomnia. If you are having problems falling asleep or staying asleep during cancer treatment, you are not alone. Sleep problems can be a side effect of treatment or the result of medications, stress, or other factors. If your sleep issues are due to pain, urinary issues, or diarrhea, your doctor can help. You may also want to try some of the recommendations below:
- Practice good bedtime habits. Avoid electronics at least two hours before bed. Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet. Don’t eat or drink a lot before bedtime. Get your exercise earlier in the day, not at night.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). If your thoughts are keeping you awake at night, a CBT therapist can help you manage negative thought patterns and calm your mind. Relaxation therapy. Guided imagery, muscle relaxation, and self-hypnosis can also help you get a good night’s rest.
- Sleep medicication. Medication to help you sleep can be prescribed on a short-term basis if other strategies don’t work.
Having strategies to minimize side effects can help you feel more in control as you undergo treatment for cancer. Some side effects cannot be controlled, such as hair loss, but there are ways to cope with them. For more tips on dealing with side effects from your cancer treatment, visit https://arizonaoncology.com/cancer-treatment-tips/chemotherapy-side-effects/.