Preventing and managing common cancer treatment side effects

Cancer Treatment Side Effects


Cancer is scary – and sometimes the potential side effects of treatment can be frightening as well. However, there are many ways to prevent and manage the common side effects of cancer treatment. At Hematology and Oncology Consultants of PA, we believe strongly that the focus should be on prevention.  Our goal is to ensure that treatment is well tolerated. 


Loss of Appetite

Loss of appetite and weight loss are seen frequently in patients with cancer.  It is important to recognize that the treatment for loss of appetite and weight loss from cancer is the effective treatment of the cancer itself.  In addition, many patients complain of changes in smell and taste which can be due to the cancer itself or chemotherapy.  If you develop change in smell or taste, you will need to try different foods in order to find foods that taste good to you.  If you are not hungry, it is important to eat small meals frequently rather than your usual breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It also is important to drink plenty of fluids.   Concerns regarding diet and nutrition should be discussed with your doctor.  In particular, it is important to inform your doctor of the use of vitamins or other supplements due to the possibility that they may interfere with treatment.

Nausea and Vomiting

It is important to recognize that not all chemotherapy drugs cause nausea and vomiting.  If you are going to receive a treatment that has the potential to cause nausea or vomiting, you will receive appropriate medication to prevent this from occurring.  Patients can develop nausea and vomiting for reasons other than their treatment.  If you experience these symptoms, it is important to inform your doctor immediately.  Some patients experience a decrease in appetite, either from their disease or treatment, and this is a reason to drink plenty of fluids.


Constipation frequently complicates treatment with narcotics.  If you are taking a narcotic, your doctor will prescribe laxatives/stool softeners.  Dehydration can worsen constipation and this in another reason to drink plenty of fluids. 


Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer and its treatment.  It is important to balance rest with activity.  Many patients benefit from taking a nap during the day.  In addition, light exercise can improve endurance and result in less fatigue.

Sleep Problems

Many patients complain of difficulty sleeping.  Steroids are commonly used in the treatment of cancer patients, and many patients develop insomnia particularly on treatment days.  You should inform your doctor of any sleep difficulties.  There are a variety of options for managing sleep disturbance. 


Not all cancer patients on treatment are at an increased risk of infection.  However, many patients are at an increased risk of infection due to their disease and/or treatment.  The most effective way to avoid infection is simple hand washing.  You should inform your doctor immediately of any obvious infection or flu-like symptoms such as fever, shaking chills, or body aches. 

Your Healthcare Team

Prior to starting cancer treatment, ask your doctor what problems or side effects are most likely for your specific kind of treatment. You should also ask what side effects are serious enough to warrant a phone call to your doctor. For more information on cancer treatment side effects, talk to your doctor. You can also visit the National Cancer Institute’s website or the American Cancer Society’s website.