Cancer Treatment and You
“We know cancer treatment can be overwhelming,” Tammy Daily, APN says. “But we are 100% committed to helping you be prepared so you know what to expect.”
There are many different types of cancer and a variety of treatment approaches. In addition, each patient comes to Illinois CancerCare with their own unique medical history. While some side effects are common for a large number of people undergoing treatment, other reactions are more individualized. That’s why it’s important to be focused on your own cancer treatment and recovery.
“Since everyone has their own experience, we sincerely encourage our patients to reach out to us at any time with their questions and concerns,” Daily explains. “That’s what we’re here for!”
Today we’ll take a look at the most common side effects of the most common treatments. It’s important to note that some of these treatments can affect multiple aspects of your health, including your emotional and sexual health. Although these side effects can happen, it doesn’t mean they will. More importantly, being aware and prepared can help you deal with side effects as they come up.
Many types of cancer require surgery to remove the cancer. Like other surgical procedures, potential side effects include a risk of infection, blood clots, fatigue and loss of appetite. Depending on the type of cancer, you may also expe
rience lymphedema. This is localized swelling due to the removal of lymph nodes which normally filter infection. Lymphedema can be impacted by the number of lymph nodes removed and/or further treatment to the area.
After surgery, do your best to follow your physician’s post-op instructions. General tips for surgical recovery include the following:
- Move around as directed by your healthcare team. Keeping your body moving helps prevent blood clots which can be a serious post-op occurrence. Walk.
- Report any angry-looking incisions, redness, fever over 100.5˚ or pain in your chest.
- Eat as instructed to help fuel your body’s recovery.
- Plan ahead to have support at home so you can rest and recover.
One of the most talked about and dreaded treatments is chemotherapy. While this can certainly be a difficult treatment, side effects are different for each individual. Your cancer team will work har dto manage your side effects. And for those that do occur, we can provide support to minimize their impact on your life.
Chemotherapy drugs target fast-growing cancer cells. However, during this aggressive approach to killing abnormal cells, your healthy cells can also be damaged. This is why many patients who undergo chemo lose their hair, experience nausea, develop anemia and are at a greater risk for infection.
Fortunately, we can provide relief for some side effects with things like medication to reduce the nausea. We encourage you to share any physical or emotional concerns so we can offer suggestions to improve your quality of life while undergoing chemo. Some patients have found relief with these self-care tips:
- Focus on nutrition before, during and after chemo. Your body needs nutrients to heal; some foods can help alleviate or minimize nausea.
- Drink. Drink. Drink. Staying hydrated is good for your entire body, including your skin.
- Consider yoga, meditation or therapy. Reducing stress and anxiety can help your body heal.
While some side effects are frustrating and have a moderate impact on your overall health, call us immediately if you have trouble breathing, a fever higher than 100.5˚, swelling of the mouth or throat, signs of infection, and/or long-lasting diarrhea or vomiting.
Some groups of patients who previously received chemo may not need it any more. A recent groundbreaking study (which included 100 patients from Illinois) showed that a large number of breast cancer patients don’t receive a benefit from using chemotherapy as part of their treatment. Read more or listen to two of our physicians explain what this means.
Side effects from radiation therapy vary greatly, with some patients experiencing virtually none. Because radiation uses high-energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells in a specific area, your potential side effects will vary based on the part of your body that’s being treated and the dose of radiation. Radiation for the brain may cause problems with memory and speech, while radiation to the pelvis can affect your bladder and fertility.
Regardless of the location, you may find that you’re extremely tired, weak, sore or have a low-grade fever. As with chemo and surgical treatments, focusing on nutrition, hydration and your emotional well-being will contribute to your recovery. Let your healthcare team know before taking any vitamins or herbal supplements since these can affect your body’s healing.
Although targeted therapy is technically considered chemotherapy, the drugs used act on the inner workings of the specific cells rather than delivering a blast that kills large numbers of cells. Targeted therapy is occasionally used alone but is more often used in combination with other treatments.
Side effects may include rash, dry skin, nail changes and occasionally a change in your hair’s color. High blood pressure or slow wound healing can also occur. Since targeted therapy is often used in conjunction with other treatments, you may also experience other side effects. Our team is here to answer your questions and provide support, so please don’t hesitate to call.
This treatment helps your own immune system fight cancer by either help your immune system attack the cancer directly or stimulating your immune system in a more general way. The medication is delivered by mouth (pill), IV (into a vein) or topically (a cream you rub on your skin). You may have heard the word “biologic” used in ads to describe treatments—immunotherapy is what they’re talking about.
You may have flu-like symptoms, dizziness, high or low blood pressure, soreness or itchiness with immunotherapy. Self-care is always important as your body needs to focus its energy on healing and restoration. As with most treatments, we don’t want you to suffer in silence—we may be able to offer suggestions that can alleviate or reduce your side effects.
Today, immunotherapy drugs are being approved by the FDA at a rapid rate, which accelerates the speed at which they reach patients to treat their cancer.
One Last Thought
Cancer isn’t what it used to be. Many of us know (or have heard stories about) people who fought a tough cancer battle and were discouraged throughout the treatment process. We are here today to tell you that we have more optimism about cancer treatment than ever before.
We are truly excited about the advances being made throughout the cancer community, as well as the success we’re having with our own clinical trials. We are determined to continue developing more effective treatments and discovering ways to reduce the side effects as much as possible.
“You are one of a kind. And so is your cancer treatment.” Daily says. “We believe that everyone deserves a listening ear and supportive healthcare team. You are the reason we come to work every day, and we are ready to be your personal advocate.”
Coming Next Month: A look at other procedures including Stem Cell Transplant, Hyperthermia, Photodynamic Therapy, Blood Transfusion and Lasers in Cancer Treatment.