Treatment Side-Effects

If your treatment plan involves chemotherapy you may experience physical, emotional, and/or psychological side effects related to this treatment. Unfortunately, while chemotherapy kills the bad cancer cells in your body, they also can attack some of the normal ones, which you need for strength.

The good news is that many side effects can be treated and/or managed.

Following is a list of some of the most common chemotherapy side effects and helpful tips to treat and relieve them. For more thorough information you may request the NOCC booklet Ovarian Cancer Quality of Life Issues by clicking on this link: ovarian.org/brochures_and_newsletters.php

Fatigue and anemia - Fatigue (extreme tiredness) is one of the most common side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. You may be suffering from fatigue if you feel physically, emotionally or mentally exhausted and have difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly. Anemia happens when chemotherapy decreases the bone marrow's ability to make red blood cells, resulting in a reduced amount of oxygen transported to all parts of the body.

  • Talk to Your Doctor About it
  • Adjust Your Schedule
  • Eat Well and Stay Hydrated
  • Allow Time to Sleep
  • Conserve Energy
  • Ask for Help

Pain - a common side effect of cancer and can be caused by a tumor pressing on nerves, bones or organs and sometimes even by your treatments.

  • Treat Pain Early
  • Stay on Schedule
  • Try Complementary Therapies
  • Talk to Your Doctor

Hair loss - for many women, losing their hair (alopecia) is one of the most devastating side effects of cancer treatment, because the loss is so visible and directly linked with identity and style. Chemotherapy can cause hair loss all over the body, including the eyebrows, eyelashes, arms and legs, but fortunately, the hair almost always grows back.

  • Cut it Off
  • Consider a Wig
  • Treat Your Hair Gently
  • Explore Other Head Covering

Constipation - During your treatment you may experience difficulty passing stool (constipation). These changes in your bowel habits can be caused by your cancer treatment, changes in your diet, pain medication (constipation) and inactivity.

  • Drink Plenty of Fluids
  • Eat High-Fiber Foods
  • Move Around As Much As Possible
  • Add a Fiber Laxative to Your Diet
  • Talk to Your Doctor Before Using Suppositories (laxatives other than fiber, stool softeners or enemas)

Diarrhea - During your treatment you may experience loose stools (diarrhea).

  • Drink Plenty of Fluids
  • Don't Eat Insoluble Fiber.
  • Add Soluble Food to Your Diet
  • Eat Small Meals, Often
  • Use Reduced-Lactose Products
  • Avoid Caffeine
  • Call Your Doctor

Nausea and vomiting - Not every person treated for cancer experiences nausea and vomiting, but for those who do, the level of discomfort varies from person to person, drug to drug, and can last from hours, to a day or sometimes longer.

  • Relax Before Treatments
  • Avoid Greasy High-Fat Foods
  • Eat and Drink Slowly
  • Rest After Eating
  • Stay Hydrated
  • Talk to Your Doctor

Mouth and throat problems - Chemotherapy drugs can affect the healthy lining of your mouth, throat and tongue and can cause you to have difficulty swallowing. In addition, the tissue in your mouth can be irritated and dry, which can cause you to lose your appetite, develop mouth sores and infection.

  • Keep Your Mouth Moist
  • Rinse Your Mouth Frequently
  • Avoid Irritating Food and Drink

Infection - Many chemotherapy drugs can cause a reduction in the number of white blood cells in your body - making you more likely to develop an infection. During your treatment, even minor infections can become a problem, which is why it is important during this period of vulnerability to take special precautions to protect yourself.

  • Avoid Cuts and Scrapes
  • Wash Hands Often
  • Avoid Crowds
  • Trim Your Nails Carefully
  • Take a Warm Bath or Shower Daily
  • Stay Away from Sick People
  • Drink Plenty of Fluids

Anxiety and depression - Many women with ovarian cancer experience some form of anxiety and depression during the course of their treatment. For a detailed discussion on dealing with both of these please refer to the Coping section of this site by clicking ovarian.org/coping.php

Nerve and muscle problems - Chemotherapy sometimes can affect the muscles and nerves causing you to experience tingling, burning or numbness in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy), or loss of balance and clumsiness.

  • Wear Sturdy, Non-Slip Shoes
  • Be Careful When Bathing
  • Grab Items Slowly
  • Soak Your Hands and Feet
  • Move Carefully

Skin irritation - Chemotherapy drugs can cause rashes, itching and peeling skin and can cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun. Cracked and irritated skin can be more prone to infection, so it is important to take care of your skin during your treatment.

  • Protect The Skin
  • Let Skin Breathe
  • Stay Clean and Dry

Sexual - Don't be surprised during your treatment if you are not as interested in sex as you usually are. This is understandable given the emotional and physical stresses you are facing. Treatment side effects such as nausea, fatigue and pain, and changes in your body and appearance (e.g. hair and weight loss) also can reduce your libido. For a detailed discussion on dealing with sexual side effects of treatment please refer to the Sexuality section of this site by clicking ovarian.org/sexuality.php

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