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Understanding the Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

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Finding out you have cancer can be scary. When receiving treatment for cancer, side effects can be physical, emotional or even psychological. With early identification, you may be able to better understand why certain things may be happening, identify any triggers, how to deal with them and whom to ask for help.

Different side effects of cancer

Cancer can create a great deal of uncertainty. You and your loved ones may have lots of questions and may be unsure how to address them.

Fluctuations in body image or self-esteem are common. If you have started to lose hair, your confidence may have taken a hit. Anxiety, depression and fear about potential loss of independence, and the impact on your family members, are also normal.

It may be that you have become tired and lose your appetite. You may suffer hair loss and have trouble sleeping. If your side effects are difficult to manage, speak with your doctor. Your medications or therapies may need to be adjusted.

Physical responses to cancer

Nausea and vomiting are common physical responses to cancer treatment. Nausea may be a direct result of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. There are other reasons why this may be happening, such as an electrolyte (minerals and salts) imbalance.

Hair loss is a documented and well-known side effect of some cancer treatments. Some chemotherapies are more likely to damage hair follicles than others. Hair loss is likely to happen within two weeks of starting a treatment, if at all. It can be distressing, but your hair is likely to start growing back before your therapy ends.

There are many other side effects that can occur when being treated for cancer, which include fertility issues, dehydration and mouth problems. It’s certainly worth keeping track of any side effects that you, or loved ones, experience so you can more effectively communicate with your health team.

How to help someone undergoing cancer treatment

The side effects of cancer treatment can be hard to anticipate, as they vary from patient to patient. With this in mind, stay flexible. Try to keep your loved one upbeat, keep their daily life as normal as possible and don’t be afraid to make plans for the future.

Allow the person going through cancer to be emotional – don’t ignore uncomfortable topics as they may need to offload. In difficult times, people often long for the banality of daily life. Treat your friend or loved one just like you did before and be present in the moment so that they can feel somewhat normal again.

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