Effects of Treatment

Cancer treatment is geared toward positive outcomes, such as removing the cancer, reducing tumor size, preventing recurrence, and cure. However, many of the treatments used to accomplish that have their own challenges for our bodies. Prior knowledge of what to expect helps in treatment decision-making and getting the support you need to deal with these effects.

Cardiopulmonary syndromes: These are conditions of the heart and lungs that may be caused by cancer or the effect of treatment, and include symptoms of: shortness of breath, as well as heart and blood vessel effects.

Depression: About one-fourth of cancer patients become depressed, often due to the stressful issues a cancer diagnosis raises.

Fatigue: The most common effect of cancer treatment, it may result from any type of treatment.

Gastrointestinal complications: Constipation, diarrhea, bowel obstruction (rare) or radiation enteritis are possibilities with cancer and its treatment. Supportive care is available.

Hypercalcemia: Too much calcium in our blood (hypercalcemia) can be life-threatening. Most common in lung, breast, multiple myeloma and lymphoma cancers, it affects 10 to 20 percent of adults and is closely monitored and treated.

Lymphedema: A build-up of fluid in soft tissues when the lymph system is damaged or blocked, lymphedema usually occurs in an arm or leg. This often occurs due to removal of lymph nodes in breast cancer surgery or scar tissue from radiation.

Nausea and vomiting: In the past, these were more common. Newer treatments control these effectively.

Night sweats and hot flashes: Cancer treatments that affect sex hormone levels, such as those that are used to treat breast and prostate cancers, may cause night sweats and hot flashes. Medications are available to reduce these symptoms.

Pain: Tumors, surgery, some chemotherapy drugs and radiation may all cause pain with cancer.

Peripheral neuropathy: Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a set of symptoms caused by effects on the nerve endings, particularly at the figure tips and toes, which may result in numbness, tingling and pain. It could also cause difficulties with motor skills of the hands and feet.

Sexuality and reproductive issues: Breast, gynecologic and prostate cancers and their treatment can affect both sexual desire and ability.

Sleep disorders: More common in people with cancer, sleep may be disturbed by the cancer, pain, or certain drugs or treatments.

Peripheral Neuropathy as an Effect of Cancer Treatment

Some of the chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer damage peripheral nerves, producing chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). It can be a disabling side effect of cancer treatment.

The symptoms or signs of chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) depend mostly on which nerves are involved. The most common symptoms are:

  • Pain that may be constant or come and go, like shooting or stabbing pain.
  • Tingling: pins-and-needles feeling or electric/shock-like pain.
  • Loss of feeling: numbness or reduced ability to sense pressure, touch, heat or cold.
  • Trouble using your fingers to pick up or hold things; dropping things.
  • Balance problems.
  • Tripping or stumbling while walking.
  • Pressure perceived as pain.
  • Heightened sensitivity to cold.
  • Muscle wasting or weakness.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Constipation.
  • Trouble passing urine.

CIPN can cause serious problems like changes in your heart rate and blood pressure, dangerous falls, trouble breathing, paralysis or organ failure. Talk to your doctor or nurse right away about any signs of CIPN that you may have. They’ll want to monitor any worsening of the problems and possibly change your treatment plan.


Cardio-oncology is a new medical discipline focused on optimally treating any associated heart conditions in patients who have been treated for cancer, or are currently being treated for cancer. Specialized cardiologists can assess patients for the potential risk of developing certain heart conditions, especially if they are receiving particular types of cancer drugs, or following radiation treatment to the chest.