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Five Most Common Side Effects of Cancer Treatment And Their Management Strategies


More than 2 million people around the world are diagnosed with cancer each year. Depending on the type of cancer that they suffer from, oncologists may suggest a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, stem cells transplant, or immunotherapy as a part of the treatment plan.

Each cancer patient and their family members end up spending thousands of dollars to seek good quality cancer treatment. However, there is more than just the financial expenses. They also end up losing a big chunk of their physical and mental energy, primarily because of the aftermath of the cancer treatment.
Cancer treatment often produces a series of side effects that patients find difficult to deal with. Not all patients experience these side effects, but those who do have no idea how they should manage them to make their lives easier.

Cancer treatment side effects can not only make the patient uncomfortable and worst if they are not able to stick to their treatment protocol. In fact, the side effects may even reduce the effectiveness of the treatment if nothing is done to manage them.

The following are some of the most common side effects of cancer treatment and the ways to manage them:

1. Fatigue

It is estimated that more than 70 percent of the cancer patients experience fatigue after undergoing cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Fatigue that is not controlled by resting often ends up affecting the way how the patient conducts his or her daily activities after the treatment.

The following strategies can help manage fatigue after cancer treatment:

Reduce your workload
Rest whenever you feel tired
Exercise everyday
Take a nutritious diet

2. Hair loss
Hair loss is one of the most common side effects experienced by cancer patients after chemotherapy. The high dose of drugs destroy the rapidly growing cells, including cancer cells and hair roots. This is the reason why cancer patients may lose hair from their scalp, armpits, eyebrows, eyelashes, and private regions.

Even though hair grows back normally in a few months the following strategies can help manage hair loss after chemotherapy:

Use a hat, scarf, or wig to cover your scalp.
Try cooling the scalp.
If approved by the doctor, take the drug minoxidil.
Let hair fall out on their own without getting yourself stressed. They will grow back eventually.

3. Diarrhea
Some drugs used to treat specific types of cancer may affect the intestines. The active ingredient contained in the drug may react with the enzymes produced by the intestinal bacteria and cause discomfort and diarrhea is one of them. This side effect is reported in almost 30 percent of the cancer patients.

Here are some of the strategies to manage diarrhea resulting out of cancer treatment:

Only eat food items that are easy to digest
Avoid fiber-rich foods as they can worsen diarrhea
Increase your fluid intake

4. Decreased libido and sex drive
Some patients may experience sexual dysfunction after cancer treatment. This is especially true in the case of patients who have had received treatment for cancers related to the bladder, prostate, colon, and rectum. However, this side effect is not just restricted to males. Females, too, can experience sexual dysfunction after receiving therapies for breast, ovarian, or cervical cancer.

Cancer treatment decreases sexual drive by affecting the nerves, hormones, and vessels that control sexual activity and mechanism. In addition, increased stress and anxiety can also hamper sexual activity of the cancer patient.

The following strategies can help manage sexual dysfunction in cancer patients:

Sildenafil (Viagra) administration for treatment of erectile dysfunction in males
Women are advised to talk to their doctor about the changes in their sexual drive

5. Itchiness and redness
Sometimes the drugs administered may react internally and cause an irritation of the skin. This may lead to excessive dryness, redness, and itchiness. In addition to the changes related to the skin, the nails may become pale, brittle, and dark because of the chemotherapy drugs.

The following strategies can help manage changes related to the skin and nails:

Use mild and fragrance-free lotions, soaps, or cream. It can help treat minor irritation to the skin.
Certain drugs such as cyclophosphamide and methotrexate can cause dark or golden pigmentation. Ask your doctor for more information.
Some doctors ask the patient to wear frozen mittens during chemotherapy. It is believed that it helps drugs from reaching the hand.

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