Coping with side effects


of cancer treatment

The side effects of cancer treatment can change your daily routine and how you feel and look. A positive attitude and a strong, fighting spirit can go a long way, but there are specific ways to cope with the side effects, too.

Ask your doctor about the side effects of any treatment you may receive so you know what to expect and prepare for. You can also search our drug encyclopedia for more information about your medications and their side effects.

Changes in the way you feel

When you're not feeling well, it's important to take care of your body and your mind. Try these practical tips for managing your physical symptoms, and guided imagery to help your mind soothe your body. If you are not able to manage your symptoms at home, talk with your doctor.

During cancer treatment, you need to eat keep up your strength and weight, in order to deal with the side effects and to help speed up your recovery.

Woman meditatingWeight loss or gain. Cancer treatments can change your nutritional needs or the way you digest food, so it can be hard to eat well. You may experience some side effects from cancer treatment that makes it even more challenging to eat well. Learn more about eating well during cancer treatment.

Constipation and diarrhea. Taking your medications according to your doctor's directions and drinking enough water can help your digestion. Learn more ways to ease constipation and diarrhea.

Fatigue and sleep. You may not have the energy you usually have, so you may need more sleep than usual. Find out how to manage your energy level.

Fever, sweat, and hot flashes. Drink plenty of fluids, and wear loose, comfortable layers of clothing, so you can take a layer off if you're too warm. Relaxation and breathing techniques can help manage your symptoms, too. Make sure you call your doctor if you have a fever since it can be a sign of infection.

Pain. In addition to the drugs your doctor prescribes, massage, physical therapy, acupuncture, and heat and cold can help relieve your pain. Learn more ways to manage pain.

Changes in the way you look

Man getting a massageWhen you don't feel good, it may be hard to keep up your appearance. But pampering yourself can help you feel better, so get a manicure or pedicure, or take a long, relaxing bath. When you're feeling up to it, light activities like walking can help brighten your day.

Here are some other strategies for dealing with changes in the way you look:

  • Hair loss. You may choose to wear a wig, scarf, or hat to help you feel more comfortable. Find other ideas for coping with hair loss.
  • Skin changes. If you have wounds or skin problems from surgery or radiation, ask your doctor about treatments to help you heal. Surgery can remove scars or rebuild a part of your body.

Changes in your body image

Your body image may change when you have cancer. It's normal to feel angry, frustrated, or disappointed, and you may experience sexual problems caused by the physical or emotional stresses caused by the cancer or treatment. It may help to discuss your feelings with a support group, or find ways to cope your emotions.

Side effects and smoking

Woman breaking a cigaretteSmoking — or allowing others to smoke around you — can increase the side effects of treatment and increase your risk of developing a second type of cancer. If you smoke, get help quitting.

Reviewed by Kaiser Permanente in 2018

A shoulder to lean on

Find out about support groups, classes, and other services that can help you cope with cancer.

My health manager

Email your doctor's office, get test results, refill your prescriptions, and more, all from the comfort of your home.

Research and clinical trials

Learn about cancer research and clinical trials at Kaiser Permanente and other organizations.