Cancer Awareness & Prevention

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Coping with the side effects of cancer treatments

Affecting people all around the world, cancer does not discriminate based on gender, age or ethnicity. A cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatments can be overwhelming. Medical teams work together with patients and families to choose the best treatment plans. But while treatments are often highly effective, coping with both the emotional and physical side effects of cancer treatments is a big part of winning the fight against this disease.

The National Cancer Institute says cancer treatments cause side effects because treatments not only affect cancerous cells, but also healthy tissues or organs. Side effects vary from person to person, even among those who get the same treatment. Side effects are particularly common among recipients of chemotherapy. According to The Mesothelioma Center, fatigue is the most frequently reported side effect of chemotherapy, affecting up to 96 percent of cancer patients. Nausea and vomiting also occur in 70 to 80 percent of chemo patients.

Cancer patients dealing with side effects like nausea, vomiting and fatigue can focus their efforts on feeling the best they can despite these effects. Nausea can occur during both radiation and chemo treatments. Patients undergoing treatments for cancers of the brain may also experience nausea, says the American Cancer Society. Patients can discuss alternative treatment plans with their physicians if nausea becomes overwhelming. Furthermore, there are medications designed to staunch the feelings of nausea that may help alleviate vomiting spells. Patients should always speak with their cancer care teams about how nausea or vomiting is affecting them, especially if it's impacting how much nutrition they are able to receive.

Fatigue is another common concern. MD Anderson Cancer Center says that fatigue is treatable, but many patients fail to discuss fatigue with their doctors. Cancer-related fatigue can have a trickle-down effect that leads to sleeping disorders; emotional distress, including depression; and added stress. A healthy lifestyle can help fight fatigue, and such a lifestyle includes healthy eating and exercise. Exercising while undergoing cancer treatments can be challenging, but even a 20-minute walk during the day can help reduce stress and increase energy. People experiencing fatigue should resist the urge to nap too frequently. One 30-minute nap may be all you need to recharge. In addition, maintain a fatigue journal, which can help doctors identify potential fatigue triggers.

Emotional effects of cancer treatment can be overwhelming, and some patients may not be eager to share such side effects with their physicians. But seeking help for depression, anxiety, fears, and any of the other myriad feelings that cancer and its treatments can produce can make a world of difference. Trained therapists who specialize in helping cancer patients routinely work with individuals to assist them in coping. When emotional health is in check, it's much easier to focus on physical health.

Cancer treatments may come with side effects. But these effects can often be mitigated so patients can direct their energy and focus to fighting the disease more effectively.