Cancer and Etiology of carcinogenesis

Cancer treatment and their side effects

Cancer treatment and their side effects

There are many types of cancer treatment. The types of treatment that you have will depend on the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is. Some people with cancer will have only one treatment. But most people have a combination of treatments, such as surgery with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. You may also have immunotherapy, targeted therapy, or hormone therapy.

Clinical trials might also be an option for you. Clinical trials are research studies that involve people. Understanding what they are and how they work can help you decide if taking part in a trial is a good option for you.

When you need treatment for cancer, you have a lot to learn and think about. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and confused. But, talking with your doctor and learning all you can about all your treatment options, including clinical trials, can help you make a decision you feel good about.

Types of Cancer Treatment

There are many types of cancer treatment. The types of treatment that you receive will depend on the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is.

Biomarker Testing for Cancer Treatment: Biomarker testing is a way to look for genes, proteins, and other substances (called biomarkers or tumor markers) that can provide information about cancer. Biomarker testing can help you and your doctor choose a cancer treatment.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Learn how chemotherapy works against cancer, why it causes side effects, and how it is used with other cancer treatments.

Hormone Therapy: Hormone therapy is a treatment that slows or stops the growth of breast and prostate cancers that use hormones to grow. Learn about the types of hormone therapy and side effects that may happen.

Hyperthermia: Hyperthermia is a type of treatment in which body tissue is heated to as high as 113 °F to help damage and kill cancer cells with little or no harm to normal tissue. Learn about the types of cancer and precancers that hyperthermia is used to treat, how it is given, and the benefits and drawbacks of using hyperthermia.

Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps your immune system fight cancer. This page covers the types of immunotherapy, how it is used against cancer, and what you can expect during treatment.

Photodynamic Therapy: Photodynamic therapy uses a drug activated by light to kill cancer and other abnormal cells. Learn how photodynamic therapy works, about the types of cancer and precancers it is used to treat, and the benefits and drawbacks of this treatment.

Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Learn about the types of radiation, why side effects happen, which side effects you might have, and more.

Stem Cell Transplant: Stem cell transplants are procedures that restore stem cells that grow into blood cells in people who have had theirs destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Learn about the types of transplants, side effects that may occur, and how stem cell transplants are used in cancer treatment.

Surgery: When used to treat cancer, surgery is a procedure in which a surgeon removes cancer from your body. Learn the different ways that surgery is used against cancer and what you can expect before, during, and after surgery.

Targeted Therapy: Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that targets the changes in cancer cells that help them grow, divide, and spread. Learn how targeted therapy works against cancer and about common side effects that may occur.


Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Cancer treatments and cancer can cause side effects. Side effects are problems that occur when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Speak up about any problems you have. Your health care team can treat and/or talk with you about ways to reduce these side effects, so you feel better.

Anemia: Cancer Treatment Side Effect

Anemia is a condition in which the number of red blood cells is below normal. 

Anemia can make you feel very tired, short of breath, and lightheaded. Signs of anemia may also include feeling dizzy or faint, headaches, a fast heartbeat, and/or pale skin.

Appetite Loss and Cancer Treatment

Cancer treatments may lower your appetite or change the way food tastes or smells. Side effects such as mouth and throat problems, or nausea and vomiting can also make eating difficult. Cancer-related fatigue can also lower your appetite.

Talk with your health care team if you are not hungry or if you find it difficult to eat. Don’t wait until you feel weak, have lost too much weight, or are dehydrated, to talk with your doctor or nurse. It’s important to eat well, especially during treatment for cancer.

Bleeding and Bruising (Thrombocytopenia) and Cancer Treatment

Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and targeted therapy, can increase your risk of bleeding and bruising. These treatments can lower the number of platelets in the blood. Platelets are the cells that help your blood to clot and stop bleeding. When your platelet count is low, you may bruise or bleed a lot or very easily and have tiny purple or red spots on your skin. This condition is called thrombocytopenia. It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if you notice any of these changes.

Constipation: Cancer Treatment Side Effect

Constipation is when you have infrequent bowel movements and stool that may be hard, dry, and difficult to pass. You may also have stomach cramps, bloating, and nausea when you are constipated.

Delirium: Cancer Treatment Side Effect

Delirium is a confused mental state that includes changes in awareness, thinking, judgment, sleeping patterns, as well as behavior. Although delirium can happen at the end of life, many episodes of delirium are caused by medicine or dehydration and are reversible.

The symptoms of delirium usually occur suddenly (within hours or days) over a short period of time and may come and go. Although delirium may be mistaken for depression or dementia, these conditions are different and have different treatments.

The three main types of delirium include:

  • Hypoactive delirium: The patient seems sleepy, tired, or depressed.
  • Hyperactive delirium: The patient is restless, anxious, or suddenly agitated and uncooperative.
  • Mixed delirium: The patient changes back and forth between hypoactive delirium and hyperactive delirium.

Diarrhea: Cancer Treatment Side Effect

Diarrhea means having bowel movements that are soft, loose, or watery more often than normal. 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.

Edema (Swelling) and Cancer Treatment

Edema, a condition in which fluid builds up in your body’s tissues, may be caused by some types of chemotherapy, certain cancers, and conditions not related to cancer.

Signs of edema may include:

  • swelling in your feet, ankles, and legs
  • swelling in your hands and arms
  • swelling in your face or abdomen
  • skin that is puffy, shiny, or looks slightly dented after being pressed
  • shortness of breath, a cough, or irregular heartbeat

Fatigue and Cancer Treatment

People often describe 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 with cancer to cope with.

Fertility Issues in Boys and Men with Cancer

Many cancer treatments can affect a boy’s or a man’s fertility. Most likely, your doctor will talk with you about whether or not cancer treatment may lower fertility or cause infertility. However, not all doctors bring up this topic. Sometimes you, a family member, or parents of a child being treated for cancer may need to initiate this conversation.

Whether or not your fertility is affected depends on factors such as:

  • your baseline fertility
  • your age at the time of treatment
  • the type of cancer and treatment(s)
  • the amount (dose) of treatment
  • the length (duration) of treatment
  • the amount of time that has passed since treatment
  • other personal health factors

Fertility Issues in Girls and Women with Cancer

Many cancer treatments can affect a girl’s or woman’s fertility. Most likely, your doctor will talk with you about whether or not cancer treatment may increase the risk of, or cause, infertility. However, not all doctors bring up this topic. Sometimes you, a family member, or parents of a child being treated for cancer may need to initiate this conversation.

Whether or not fertility is affected depends on factors such as:

  • your baseline fertility
  • your age at the time of treatment
  • the type of cancer and treatment(s)
  • the amount (dose) of treatment
  • the length (duration) of treatment
  • the amount of time that has passed since cancer treatment
  • other personal health factors

Flu-Like Symptoms Caused by Cancer Treatments

Flu-like symptoms (also called flu-like syndrome) are a group of related side effects that may be caused by cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy. If flu-like symptoms are severe, you may be advised to seek immediate medical attention. Some people who receive higher doses of treatment, or more than one treatment at a time, may have more severe flu-like symptoms.

Hair Loss (Alopecia) and Cancer Treatment

Some types of chemotherapy cause the hair on your head and other parts of your body to fall out. Radiation therapy can also cause hair loss on the part of the body that is being treated. Hair loss is called alopecia. Talk with your health care team to learn if the cancer treatment you will be receiving causes hair loss.

Infection and Neutropenia during Cancer Treatment

An infection is the invasion and growth of germs in the body, such as bacteria, viruses, yeast, or other fungi. An infection can begin anywhere in the body, may spread throughout the body, and can cause one or more of these signs:

  • fever of 100.5 °F (38 °C) or higher
  • chills
  • cough or sore throat
  • diarrhea
  • ear pain, headache or sinus pain, or a stiff or sore neck
  • skin rash
  • sores or white coating in your mouth or on your tongue
  • swelling or redness, especially where a catheter enters your body
  • urine that is bloody or cloudy, or pain when you urinate

Lymphedema and Cancer Treatment

Lymphedema is a condition in which the lymph fluid does not drain properly. It may build up in the tissues and causes swelling. This can happen when part of the lymph system is damaged or blocked, such as during surgery to remove lymph nodes, or radiation therapy. Cancers that block lymph vessels can also cause lymphedema.

Lymphedema usually affects an arm or leg, but it can also affect other parts of the body, such as the head and neck. You may notice symptoms of lymphedema at the part of your body where you had surgery or received radiation therapy. Swelling usually develops slowly, over time. It may develop during treatment or it may start years after treatment.

Memory or Concentration Problems and Cancer Treatment

Whether you have memory or concentration problems (sometimes described as a mental fog or chemo brain) depends on the type of treatment you receive, your age, and other health-related factors. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy may cause difficulty with thinking, concentrating, or remembering things. So can some types of radiation therapy to the brain and immunotherapy.

These cognitive problems may start during or after cancer treatment. Some people notice very small changes, such as a bit more difficulty remembering things, whereas others have much greater memory or concentration problems.

Your doctor will assess your symptoms and advise you about ways to manage or treat these problems. Treating conditions such as poor nutrition, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and insomnia may also help.

Mouth and Throat Problems: Cancer Treatment Side Effects

Cancer treatments may cause mouth, throat, and dental problems. Radiation therapy to the head and neck may harm the salivary glands and tissues in your mouth and/or make it hard to chew and swallow safely. Some types of chemotherapy and immunotherapy can also harm cells in your mouth, throat, and lips. Drugs used to treat cancer and certain bone problems may also cause oral problems.

Nausea and Vomiting in People with Cancer

Nausea is when you feel sick to your stomach, as if you are going to throw up. Vomiting is when you throw up.

Pain in People with Cancer

Cancer itself and the side effects of cancer treatment can sometimes cause pain. Pain is not something that you have to “put up with.” Controlling pain is an important part of your cancer treatment plan. Pain can suppress the immune system, increase the time it takes your body to heal, interfere with sleep, and affect your mood.

Talk with your health care team about pain, especially if:

  • the pain isn’t getting better or going away with pain medicine
  • the pain comes on quickly
  • the pain makes it hard to eat, sleep, or perform your normal activities
  • you feel new pain
  • you have side effects from the pain medicine such as sleepiness, nausea, or constipation

Skin and Nail Changes during Cancer Treatment

Cancer treatments may cause skin and nail changes. Talk with your health care team to learn what side effects your treatment may cause. While skin problems caused by radiation therapy and chemotherapy are often mild, they may be more severe if you are receiving a stem cell transplant, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy. Let your health care team know if you notice any skin changes so they can be treated promptly.

  • Sometimes radiation therapy can cause the skin on the part of your body receiving radiation to become dry and peel, itch (called pruritus), and turn red or darker. Your skin may look sunburned or become swollen or puffy. You may develop sores that become painful, wet, and infected. This is called a moist reaction.
  • Some types of chemotherapy can cause your skin to become dry, itchy, red or darker, or peel. You may develop a minor rash or sunburn easily; this is called photosensitivity. Some people also have skin pigmentation changes. Your nails may be dark and cracked, and your cuticles may hurt. If you received radiation therapy in the past, the area of skin where you received radiation may become red, blister, peel, or hurt. This is called radiation recall. Signs of an allergic response to chemotherapy may include a sudden or severe rash or hives or a burning sensation.
  • Stem cell transplants can cause graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), which may cause skin problems such as a rash, blisters, or thickening of the skin.
  • Some types of immunotherapy can cause a severe and sometimes extensive rash. Your skin may be dry or blister.
  • Some types of targeted therapy may cause dry skin, a rash, and nail problems. If you develop a rash, it is important to talk with your doctor before stopping targeted therapy.
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Sleep Problems in People with Cancer

Sleep problems such as being unable to fall asleep and/or stay asleep, also called insomnia, are common among people being treated for cancer.

Urinary and Bladder Problems

Some cancer treatments, such as those listed below, may cause urinary and bladder problems:

  • Radiation therapy to the pelvis (including reproductive organs, the bladder, colon and rectum) can irritate the bladder and urinary tract. These problems often start several weeks after radiation therapy begins and go away several weeks after treatment has been completed.
  • Some types of chemotherapy and immunotherapy can also affect or damage cells in the bladder and kidneys.
  • Surgery to remove the prostate (prostatectomy), bladder cancer surgery, and surgery to remove a woman’s uterus, the tissue on the sides of the uterus, the cervix, and the top part of the vagina (radical hysterectomy) can also cause urinary problems. These types of surgery may also increase the risk of a urinary tract infection



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