Effects of Treatment
Cancer treatment is geared toward positive outcomes, such as removing the cancer, replacing abnormal blood-producing cells in bone marrow with healthy ones and preventing recurrence. 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. Side effects depend on the type of treatment.
General side effects
- Fatigue: The most common effect of cancer treatment, this fatigue is different than the kind healthy people experience. It can result from any type of cancer treatment.
- Gastrointestinal complications: Constipation, diarrhea, are all possibilities with cancer and its treatment.
- Graft versus host disease: If you undergo stem-cell transplantation from a donor, you’re at risk of developing graft versus host disease (GVHD). The older you are, the higher your risk. GVHD develops when the donor’s immune cells mistakenly attack the patient’s normal cells. It can be mild, moderate or severe. New drugs have been approved to counteract the effect.
- Late effects in cancer survivors: Months or years after successful treatment, late effects of radiation, chemotherapy, surgery or stem cell transplant may arise. Discuss these late complications with your oncologist.
Chemotherapy-induced side effects
Depending on the type of chemotherapy, you might experience some of the following effects. Ask your oncologist for an information sheet on your specific chemotherapy and its possible side effects. They will vary among different types of drugs.
- Infertility: Some types of chemotherapy might affect reproduction. Discuss this possibility and ways to handle it with your physician.
- Kidney stones: Chemotherapy can cause kidney stones. Your doctor can give you a drug to reduce the uric acid in your blood.
- Rashes and mouth sores: Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it may damage normal cells also. The lining of the mouth, throat, stomach and intestines are particularly vulnerable to damage.
- Nausea and vomiting: These can be serious consequences of cancer treatment and must be controlled so cancer therapy can continue and you can live your normal life. The newer drugs are quite effective.
- Pain: Tumors, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy can all cause pain with cancer.
- Peripheral neuropathy: Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a set of symptoms caused by damage to the nerves that control the movement of our arms and legs and activity of the bladder and bowel.
- Sleep disorders: More common in people with cancer, sleep may be disturbed by the cancer, pain or certain drugs or treatments.
- Temporary loss of hair: That includes eyelashes and eyebrows. Hair usually grows back in after treatment.
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.