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Manage side effects

Track how you are feeling to be able to talk with your doctor about side effects

Managing Side Effects of Cancer

You may have side effects or symptoms throughout your cancer journey. These can be caused by cancer or your treatment. Tell your doctor right away about any side effects or symptoms you’re feeling. Your doctor can help you get care and treatment so that you can manage your side effects.

Use the tips on this page to help manage a few common side effects. Always tell your doctor about side effects or symptoms and follow their advice.

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the local health authority by calling the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088. You may also report to the FDA online.

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Start Tracking Cancer Symptoms

Start tracking cancer symptoms

Your doctor can help you when they have a good understanding of your day-to-day life. Use a tool like the Symptom Tracker to write down how you’re feeling each day. Bring it to your visits to talk with your doctor.

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Symptom Tracker

Tips to manage common side effects

From the National Cancer Institute (NCI)

The information below is based on information originally published by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the US government’s main agency for cancer research. Although the advice on this page is meant to be a guide, you should always follow the advice from your doctor first.

How to manage fatigue

People often describe cancer-related fatigue as feeling extremely tired, weak, heavy, run down, and having no energy. Resting does not always help with cancer-related fatigue. Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most difficult side effects for many people to cope with.

Fatigue is a common side effect of many cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, bone marrow transplant, and surgery. Conditions such as anemia, as well as pain, medications, and emotions, can also cause or worsen fatigue.

Ways to manage fatigue:

Make a plan that balances rest and activity. Choose activities that are relaxing for you. Many people choose to listen to music, read, meditate, practice guided imagery, or spend time with people they enjoy. Relaxing can help you save your energy and lower stress. Light exercise may also be advised by your doctor to give you more energy and help you feel better.

Plan time to rest. If you are tired, take short naps of less than 1 hour during the day. However, too much sleep during the day can make it difficult to sleep at night. Choose the activities that are most important to you and do them when you have the most energy. Ask for help with important tasks such as making meals or driving.

Eat and drink well. Meet with a registered dietitian to learn about foods and drinks that can increase your level of energy. Foods high in protein and calories will help you keep up your strength. Some people find it easier to eat many small meals throughout the day instead of 3 big meals. Stay well hydrated. Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol.

Meet with a specialist. It may help to meet with a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. These experts help people to cope with difficult thoughts and feelings. Lowering stress may give you more energy. Since pain that is not controlled can also be a major source of fatigue, it may help to meet with a pain or palliative care specialist.

How to manage diarrhea

Diarrhea means having bowel movements that are soft, loose, or watery more often than normal. Cancer treatments, or the cancer itself, may cause diarrhea or make it worse. Some medicines, infections, and stress can also cause diarrhea.

If diarrhea is severe or lasts a long time, the body does not absorb enough water and nutrients. This can cause you to become dehydrated or malnourished.

Ways to manage diarrhea:

Drink plenty of fluid each day. Most people need to drink 8 to 12 cups of fluid each day. Ask your doctor or nurse how much fluid you should drink each day. For severe diarrhea, only clear liquids or IV (intravenous) fluids may be advised for a short period.

Eat small meals that are easy on your stomach. Eat 6 to 8 small meals throughout the day, instead of 3 large meals. Foods high in potassium and sodium (minerals you lose when you have diarrhea) are good food choices, for most people. Limit or avoid foods and drinks that can make your diarrhea worse.

Check before taking medicine. Check with your doctor or nurse before taking medicine for diarrhea. Your doctor will prescribe the correct medicine for you.

Keep your anal area clean and dry. Try using warm water and wipes to stay clean. It may help to take warm, shallow baths. These are called sitz baths.

How to manage nausea and vomiting

Nausea is when you feel sick to your stomach, as if you are going to throw up. Vomiting is when you throw up. Controlling nausea and vomiting will help you to feel better and prevent more serious problems such as malnutrition and dehydration.

Your doctor or nurse will work to figure out what is causing your symptoms. Medicines called anti-nausea drugs or antiemetics are effective in preventing or reducing many types of nausea and vomiting.

Ways to manage nausea and vomiting:

Drink plenty of water and fluids. Drinking will help to prevent dehydration, a serious problem that happens when your body loses too much fluid and you are not drinking enough. Try to sip on water, fruit juices, ginger ale, tea, and/or sports drinks throughout the day.

Avoid certain foods. Don’t eat greasy, fried, sweet, or spicy foods if you feel sick after eating them. If the smell of food bothers you, ask others to make your food. Try cold foods that do not have strong smells, or let food cool down before you eat it.

Try these tips on treatment days. Some people find that it helps to eat a small snack before treatment. Others avoid eating or drinking right before or after treatment because it makes them feel sick. After treatment, wait at least 1 hour before you eat or drink.

Learn about complementary medicine practices that may help. Acupuncture relieves nausea and/or vomiting caused by chemotherapy in some people. Deep breathing, guided imagery, hypnosis, and other relaxation techniques (such as listening to music, reading a book, or meditating) also help some people.

Take an anti-nausea medicine. Talk with your doctor or nurse to learn when to take your medicine. Most people need to take an anti-nausea medicine even on days when they feel well. Tell your doctor or nurse if the medicine doesn’t help. There are different kinds of medicine and one may work better than another for you.

Know the Side Effects of Your Cancer Treatment

Know the side effects of your cancer treatment

Side effects can differ from person to person, even among people getting the same type of cancer treatment. At each visit, talk with your doctor about your treatment and tell them how you are feeling.

Example questions to ask your doctor

  • What are the possible side effects of my treatment?
  • What side effects may happen between treatment sessions?
  • How can I manage side effects?
  • Do you have a patient brochure that I can take with me that explains my treatment and possible side effects?
        
What are the possible side effects of my treatment?
What side effects may happen between treatment sessions?
How can I manage side effects?
Do you have a patient brochure that I can take with me that explains my treatment and possible side effects?    
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