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Anemia

 

What it is and why it occurs

 

Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. Anemia is when you have too few red blood cells to carry the oxygen your body needs. Your heart works harder when your body does not get enough oxygen. This can make it feel like your heart is pounding or beating very fast. Anemia can also make you feel short of breath, weak, dizzy, faint, or very tired.

 

Some types of chemotherapy cause anemia because they make it harder for bone marrow to produce new red blood cells.

 

Ways to manage

 

  • Get plenty of rest. Try to sleep at least 8 hours each night. You might also want to take 1 to 2 short naps (1 hour or less) during the day.
  • Limit your activities. This means doing only the activities that are most important to you. For example, you might go to work but not clean the house. Or you might order take-out food instead of cooking dinner.
  • Accept help. When your family or friends offer to help, let them. They can help care for your children, pick up groceries, run errands, drive you to doctor’s visits, or do other chores you feel too tired to do.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Choose a diet that contains all the calories and protein your body needs. Calories will help keep your weight up, and extra protein can help repair tissues that have been harmed by cancer treatment. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or dietitian about the diet that is right for you. 
  • Stand up slowly. You may feel dizzy if you stand up too fast. When you get up from lying down, sit for a minute before you stand.

 

Appetite Changes

 

What they are and why they occur

 

Chemotherapy can cause appetite changes. You may lose your appetite because of nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), mouth and throat problems that make it painful to eat, or drugs that cause you to lose your taste for food. Appetite changes can also come from feeling depressed or tired. This problem may last for a day, a few weeks, or even months.

 

It is important to eat well, even when you have no appetite. This means eating and drinking foods that have plenty of protein, vitamins, and calories. Eating well helps your body fight infection and repair tissues that are damaged by chemotherapy. Not eating well can lead to weight loss, weakness, and fatigue.

 

Some cancer treatments cause weight gain or an increase in your appetite. Be sure to ask your doctor, nurse, or dietitian what types of appetite changes you might expect and how to manage them.

 

Ways to manage

 

Eat five to six small meals or snacks each day instead of three big meals. Many people find it easier to eat smaller amounts more often. Choose foods and drinks that are high in calories and protein. 

 

Set a daily schedule for eating your meals and snacks. Eat when it is time to eat, rather than when you feel hungry. You may not feel hungry while you are on chemotherapy, but you still need to eat.

 

Drink milkshakes, smoothies, juice, or soup if you do not feel like eating solid foods. Liquids like these can help provide the protein, vitamins, and calories your body needs. 

 

Use plastic forks and spoons. Some types of chemotherapy give you a metal taste in your mouth. Eating with plastic can help decrease the metal taste. Cooking in glass pots and pans can also help.

 

Increase your appetite by doing something active. For instance, you might have more of an appetite if you take a short walk before lunch. Also, be careful not to decrease your appetite by drinking too much liquid before or during meals.

 

Change your routine. Eat in a different place, such as the dining room rather  than the kitchen. Or, eat with other people instead of eating alone. If you eat alone, you may want to listen to the radio or watch TV. You may also want to vary your diet by trying new foods and recipes.

 

Talk with your doctor, nurse, or dietitian. He or she may want you to take extra vitamins or nutrition supplements (such as high protein drinks). If you cannot eat for a long time and are losing weight, you may need to take drugs that increase your appetite or receive nutrition through an IV or feeding tube. 

 

Bleeding

 

What it is and why it occurs

 

Platelets are cells that make your blood clot when you bleed. Chemotherapy can lower the number of platelets because it affects your bone marrow’s ability to make them. A low platelet count is called thrombocytopenia. This condition may cause bruises even when you have not been hit or have not bumped into anything, bleeding from your nose or in your mouth, or a rash of tiny, red dots.

 

Ways to manage

 

Do:

 

  • Brush your teeth with a very soft toothbrush.
  • Soften the bristles of your toothbrush by running hot water over them before you brush.
  • Use a water flosser to clean your gums and between your teeth.
  • Blow your nose gently.
  • Be careful when using scissors, knives, or other sharp objects.
  • Use an electric shaver instead of a razor.
  • Apply gentle but firm pressure to any cuts you get until the bleeding stops.
  • Wear shoes all the time, even inside the house or hospital.

 

Do not:

 

  • Use dental floss or toothpicks.
  • Play sports or do other activities during which you could get hurt.
  • Use tampons, enemas, suppositories, or rectal thermometers.
  • Wear clothes with tight collars, wrists, or waistbands.

 

Constipation

 

What it is and why it occurs

 

Constipation is when bowel movements become less frequent and stools are hard, dry, and difficult to pass. You may have painful bowel movements and feel bloated or nauseous. You may belch, pass a lot of gas, and have stomach cramps or pressure in the rectum.

 

Drugs such as chemotherapy and pain medicine can cause constipation. It can also happen when people are not active and spend a lot of time sitting or lying down. Constipation can also be due to eating foods that are low in fiber or not drinking enough fluids.

 

Ways to manage

 

Keep a record of your bowel movements. Show this record to your doctor or nurse and talk about what is normal for you. This makes it easier to figure out whether you have constipation.

 

Drink at least eight cups of water or other fluids each day. Many people find that drinking warm or hot fluids, such as coffee and tea, helps with constipation. Fruit juices, such as prune juice, may also be helpful.

 

Be active every day. You can be active by walking, riding a bike, or doing yoga. If you cannot walk, ask about exercises that you can do in a chair or bed. Talk with your doctor or nurse about ways you can be more active.

 

Ask your doctor, nurse, or dietitian about foods that are high in fiber. Eating high-fiber foods and drinking lots of fluids can help soften your stools. Good sources of fiber include whole-grain breads and cereals, dried beans and peas, raw vegetables, fresh and dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and popcorn. 

 

Let your doctor or nurse know if you have not had a bowel movement in two days. Your doctor may suggest a fiber supplement, laxative, stool softener, or enema. Do not use these treatments without first checking with your doctor or nurse.

 

Diarrhea

 

What it is and why it occurs

 

Diarrhea is frequent bowel movements that may be soft, loose, or watery. Chemotherapy can cause diarrhea because it harms healthy cells that line your large and small intestines. It may also speed up your bowels. Diarrhea can also be caused by infections or drugs used to treat constipation.

 

Ways to manage

 

Eat five or six small meals and snacks each day instead of three large meals. Many people find it easier to eat smaller amounts more often.

 

Ask your doctor or nurse about foods that are high in salts such as sodium and potassium. Your body can lose these salts when you have diarrhea, and it is important to replace them. Foods that are high in sodium or potassium include bananas, oranges, peach and apricot nectar, and boiled or mashed potatoes.

 

Drink eight to twelve cups of clear liquids each day. Examples include water, clear broth, ginger ale, or sports drinks such as Gatorade® or Propel®. Drink slowly, and choose drinks that are at room temperature. Let carbonated drinks lose their fizz before you drink them. Add extra water if drinks make you thirsty or sick to your stomach.

 

Eat low-fiber foods. Foods that are high in fiber can make diarrhea worse. Low-fiber foods include bananas, white rice, white toast, and plain or vanilla yogurt. 

 

Let your doctor or nurse know if your diarrhea lasts for more than 24 hours or if you have pain and cramping along with diarrhea. Your doctor may prescribe a medicine to control the diarrhea. You may also need IV fluids to replace the water and nutrients you lost. Do not take any medicine for diarrhea without first asking your doctor or nurse.

 

Be gentle when you wipe yourself after a bowel movement. Instead of toilet paper, use a baby wipe or squirt of water from a spray bottle to clean yourself after bowel movements. Let your doctor or nurse know if your rectal area is sore or bleeds or if you have hemorrhoids.

 

Ask your doctor if you should try a clear liquid diet. This can give your bowels time to rest. Most people stay on this type of diet for five days or less. 

 

Avoid:

 

  • Drinks that are very hot or very cold
  • Beer, wine, and other types of alcohol
  • Milk or milk products, such as ice cream, milkshakes, sour cream, and cheese
  • Spicy foods, such as hot sauce, salsa, chili, and curry dishes
  • Greasy and fried foods, such as French fries and hamburgers
  • Foods or drinks with caffeine, such as regular coffee, black tea, cola, and chocolate
  • Foods or drinks that cause gas, such as cooked dried beans, cabbage, broccoli, and soy milk and other soy products
  • Foods that are high in fiber, such as cooked dried beans, raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole-wheat breads and cereals

 

Fatigue

 

What it is and why it occurs

 

Fatigue from chemotherapy can range from a mild to extreme feeling of being tired. Many people describe fatigue as feeling weak, weary, worn out, heavy, or slow.

 

Resting does not always help.

 

Many people say they feel fatigue during chemotherapy and even for weeks or months after treatment is over. Fatigue can be caused by the type of chemotherapy, the effort of making frequent visits to the doctor, or feelings such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

 

If you receive radiation therapy along with chemotherapy, your fatigue may be more severe. Fatigue can also be caused by:

 

 

Fatigue can happen all at once or little by little. People feel fatigue in different ways. You may feel more or less fatigue than someone else who gets the same type of chemotherapy.

 

Ways to manage

 

Relax. You might want to try meditation, prayer, yoga, guided imagery, visualization, or other ways to relax and decrease stress. 

 

Eat and drink well. Often, this means five to six small meals and snacks a day rather than three large meals. Keep foods around that are easy to fix, such as canned soups, frozen meals, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Drink plenty of fluids each day—about 8 cups of water or juice.

 

Plan time to rest. You may feel better when you rest or take a short nap during the day. Many people say that it helps to rest for just 10 to 15 minutes rather than nap for a long time. If you nap, try to sleep for less than 1 hour. Keeping naps short will help you sleep better at night.

 

Be active. Research shows that exercise can ease fatigue and help you sleep better at night. Try going for a 15-minute walk, doing yoga, or riding an exercise bike. Plan to be active when you have the most energy. Talk with your doctor or nurse about ways you can be active while getting chemotherapy.

 

Try not to do too much. With fatigue, you may not have enough energy to do all the things you want to do. Choose the activities you want to do and let someone else help with the others. Try quiet activities, such as reading, knitting, or learning a new language on tape.

 

Sleep at least eight hours each night. This may be more sleep than you needed before chemotherapy. You are likely to sleep better at night when you are active during the day. You may also find it helpful to relax before going to bed. For instance, you might read a book, work on a jigsaw puzzle, listen to music, or do other quiet hobbies. 

 

Plan a work schedule that works for you. Fatigue may affect the amount of energy you have for your job. You may feel well enough to work your full schedule. Or you may need to work less—maybe just a few hours a day or a few days each week. If your job allows, you may want to talk with your boss about ways to work from home. Or you may want to go on medical leave (stop working for a while) while getting chemotherapy.

 

Let others help. Ask family members and friends to help when you feel fatigue. Perhaps they can help with household chores or drive you to and from doctor’s visits. They might also help by shopping for food and cooking meals for you to eat now or freeze for later.

 

Learn from others who have cancer. People who have cancer can help by sharing ways that they manage fatigue. One way to meet others is by joining a support group—either in person or online. Talk with your doctor or nurse to learn more.

 

Keep a diary of how you feel each day. This will help you plan how to best use your time. Share your diary with your nurse. Let your doctor or nurse know if you notice changes in your energy level, whether you have lots of energy or are very tired.

 

Talk with your doctor or nurse. Your doctor may prescribe medication that can help decrease fatigue, give you a sense of well-being, and increase your appetite. He or she may also suggest treatment if your fatigue is from anemia. 

 

Hair Loss

 

What it is and why it occurs

 

Hair loss (also called alopecia) is when some or all of your hair falls out. This can happen anywhere on your body: your head, face, arms, legs, underarms, or the pubic area between your legs. Many people are upset by the loss of their hair and find it the most difficult part of chemotherapy.

 

Some types of chemotherapy damage the cells that cause hair growth. Hair loss often starts two to three weeks after chemotherapy begins. Your scalp may hurt at first. Then you may lose your hair, either a little at a time or in clumps. It takes about one week for all your hair to fall out. Almost always, your hair will grow back two to three months after chemotherapy is over. You may notice that your hair starts growing back even while you are getting chemotherapy.

 

Your hair will be very fine when it starts growing back. Also, your new hair may not look or feel the same as it did before. For instance, your hair may be thin instead of thick, curly instead of straight, and darker or lighter in color.

 

Ways to manage

 

Before hair loss:

 

Talk with your doctor or nurse. He or she will know if you are likely to have hair loss.

 

Cut your hair short or shave your head. You might feel more in control of hair loss if you first cut your hair or shave your head. This often makes hair loss easier to manage. If you shave your head, use an electric shaver instead of a razor.

 

Choose your wig before you start chemotherapy. This way, you can match the wig to the color and style of your hair. You might also take it to your hair dresser who can style the wig to look like your own hair. Make sure to choose a wig that feels comfortable and does not hurt your scalp.

 

Ask if your insurance company will pay for a wig. If it will not, you can deduct the cost of your wig as a medical expense on your income tax. Some groups also have free “wig banks.” Your doctor, nurse, or social worker will know if there is a wig bank near you.

 

Be gentle when you wash your hair. Use a mild shampoo, such as a baby shampoo. Dry your hair by patting (not rubbing) it with a soft towel.

 

Do not use items that can hurt your scalp. These include:

 

  • Straightening or curling irons
  • Brush rollers or curlers
  • Electric hair dryers
  • Hair bands and clips
  • Hairsprays
  • Hair dyes
  • Products to perm or relax your hair

 

After hair loss:

 

Protect your scalp. Your scalp may hurt during and after hair loss. Protect it by wearing a hat, turban, or scarf when you are outside. Try to avoid places that are very hot or very cold. This includes tanning beds and outside in the sun or cold air. And always apply sunscreen or sunblock to protect your scalp.

 

Stay warm. You may feel colder once you lose your hair. Wear a hat, turban, scarf, or wig to help you stay warm.

 

Sleep on a satin pillow case. Satin creates less friction than cotton when you sleep on it. Therefore, you may find satin pillow cases more comfortable.

 

Talk about your feelings. Many people feel angry, depressed, or embarrassed about hair loss. If you are very worried or upset, you might want to talk about these feelings with a doctor, nurse, family member, close friend, or someone who has had hair loss caused by cancer treatment.

 

Infection

 

What it is and why it occurs

 

Some types of chemotherapy make it harder for your bone marrow to produce new white blood cells. White blood cells help your body fight infection. Since chemotherapy decreases the number of your white blood cells, it is important to avoid infections.

 

There are many types of white blood cells. One type is called a neutrophil. When your neutrophil count is low, it is called neutropenia. Your doctor or nurse may do blood tests to find out whether you have neutropenia.

 

It is important to watch for signs of infection when you have neutropenia. Check for fever at least once a day, or as often as your doctor or nurse tells you to. You may find it best to use a digital thermometer. Many doctors will want you to call if you have a fever of 100.5°F or higher, but this can vary. Ask your doctor or nurse when you should call to report a high fever.

 

Ways to manage

 

Your doctor or nurse will check your white blood cell count throughout your treatment. If chemotherapy is likely to make your white blood cell count very low, you may get medicine to raise your white blood cell count and lower your risk of infection.

 

Wash your hands often with soap and water. Be sure to wash your hands before cooking and eating, and after you use the bathroom, blow your nose, cough, sneeze, or touch animals. Carry hand sanitizer for times when you are not near soap and water.

 

Use sanitizing wipes to clean surfaces and items that you touch. This includes public telephones, ATM machines, doorknobs, and other common items.

 

Be gentle and thorough when you wipe yourself after a bowel movement. Instead of toilet paper, use a baby wipe or squirt of water from a spray bottle to clean yourself. Let your doctor or nurse know if your rectal area is sore or bleeds or if you have hemorrhoids.

 

Stay away from people who are sick. This includes people with colds, flu, measles, or chicken pox. You also need to stay away from children who just had a “live virus” vaccine for chicken pox or polio. Call your doctor, nurse, or local health department if you have any questions.

 

Stay away from crowds. Try not to be around a lot of people. For instance, plan to go shopping or to the movies when the stores and theaters are less crowded.

 

Be careful not to cut or nick yourself. Do not cut or tear your nail cuticles. Use an electric shaver instead of a razor. And be extra careful when using scissors, needles, or knives.

 

Watch for signs of infection around your catheter. Signs to look for include drainage, redness, swelling, or soreness. Tell your doctor or nurse about any changes you notice near your catheter.

 

Maintain good mouth care. Brush your teeth after meals and before you go to bed. Use a very soft toothbrush. You can make the bristles even softer by running hot water over them just before you brush. Use a mouth rinse that does not contain alcohol. Check with your doctor or nurse before going to the dentist. 

 

Take good care of your skin. Do not squeeze or scratch pimples. Use lotion to soften and heal dry, cracked skin. Dry yourself after a bath or shower by gently patting your skin. Be careful not to rub your skin. 

 

Clean cuts right away. Use warm water, soap, and an antiseptic to clean your cuts. Clean your cut like this every day until your cut has a scab over it.

 

Be careful around animals. Do not clean your cat’s litter box, pick up dog waste, or clean bird cages or fish tanks. Be sure to wash your hands after touching pets and other animals.

 

Do not get a flu shot or other type of vaccine without first asking your doctor or nurse. Some vaccines contain a live virus, which you should not be exposed to.

 

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Do not leave leftovers sitting out. Put them in the refrigerator as soon as you are done eating.

 

Wash raw vegetables and fruits well before eating them. Avoid those that cannot be washed well, such as raspberries. Do not eat raw or undercooked fish, seafood, meat, chicken, or eggs. These foods may have bacteria that can cause infection.

 

Do not eat or drink items that are past the freshness date. Do not eat foods that have moldy spots, even if you cut them out.

 

Infertility

 

What it is and why it occurs

 

Some types of chemotherapy can cause infertility. For a woman, this means that you may not be able to become pregnant.

 

For a man, this means you may not be able to father a child.

 

In women, chemotherapy may damage the ovaries. This damage can lower the number of healthy eggs in the ovaries. It can also lower the hormones produced by them. The drop in hormones can lead to early menopause. Early menopause and fewer healthy eggs can cause infertility.

 

In men, chemotherapy may damage sperm cells, which grow and divide quickly. Infertility may occur because chemotherapy can lower the number of sperm, make sperm less able to move, or cause other types of damage.

 

Whether or not you become infertile depends on the type of chemotherapy you get, your age, and whether you have other health problems. Infertility can last the rest of your life.

 

Ways to manage

 

For WOMEN, talk with your doctor or nurse about:

 

Whether you want to have children. Before you start chemotherapy, let your doctor or nurse know if you might want to get pregnant in the future. He or she may talk with you about ways to preserve your eggs to use after treatment ends or refer you to a fertility specialist.

 

Birth control. It is very important that you do not get pregnant while getting chemotherapy. These drugs can hurt the fetus, especially in the first three months of pregnancy. If you have not yet gone through menopause, talk with your doctor or nurse about birth control and ways to prevent pregnancy.

 

Pregnancy. If you still have menstrual periods, your doctor or nurse may ask you to have a pregnancy test before you start chemotherapy. If you are pregnant, your doctor or nurse will talk with you about other treatment options. 

 

For MEN, talk with your doctor or nurse about:

 

Whether  you want to have  children. Before you start chemotherapy, let your doctor or nurse know if you might want to father children in the future. He or she may talk with you about ways to preserve your sperm to use in the future or refer you to a fertility specialist.

 

Birth control. It is very important that your spouse or partner not get pregnant during your course of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can damage your sperm and cause birth defects. 

 

Mouth and Throat Changes

 

What they are and why they occur

 

Some types of chemotherapy harm fast-growing cells, such as those that line your mouth, throat, and lips. This can affect your teeth, gums, the lining of your mouth, and the glands that make saliva. Most mouth problems go away a few days after chemotherapy is over.

 

Mouth and throat problems may include:

 

  • Dry mouth
  • Changes in taste and smell, such as when food tastes like metal or chalk, has no taste, or does not taste or smell like it used to
  • Infections of your gums, teeth, or tongue Increased sensitivity to hot or cold foods Mouth sores
  • Trouble eating when your mouth gets very sore

 

Ways to manage

 

Visit a dentist at least two weeks before starting chemotherapy. It is important that your mouth is as healthy as possible, which means having all your dental work done before chemotherapy starts. If you cannot go to the dentist before chemotherapy starts, ask your doctor or nurse when it is safe to go. Be sure to tell your dentist that you have cancer and about your treatment plan.

 

Check your mouth and tongue every day. By checking your mouth, you can see or feel problems (such as mouth sores, white spots, or infections) as soon as they start. Inform your doctor or nurse right away if you see any of these problems.

 

Keep your mouth moist. You can keep your mouth moist by sipping water throughout the day, sucking on ice chips or sugar-free hard candy, or chewing sugar-free gum.

 

Ask your doctor or nurse about saliva substitutes if your mouth is always dry.

 

Clean your mouth, teeth, gums, and tongue.

 

  • Brush your teeth, gums, and tongue after each meal and at bedtime.
  • Use an extra-soft toothbrush. You can make the bristles even softer by rinsing your toothbrush in hot water before you brush.
  • If brushing is painful, try cleaning your teeth with cotton swabs which are shaped sponges on a stick.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste or special fluoride gel that your dentist prescribes.
  • Do not use mouthwash that has alcohol. Instead, rinse your mouth three to four times a day with a solution of baking soda, salt, and warm water followed by a plain water rinse. There are many recipes for this solution, but an example is 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1 cup of warm water.
  • Gently floss your teeth every day. If your gums bleed or hurt, avoid those areas but floss your other teeth. Ask your doctor or nurse about flossing if your platelet count is low. 
  • If you wear dentures, make sure they fit well and keep them clean. Also, limit the length of time that you wear them.

 

Be careful about what you eat when your mouth is sore.

 

  • Choose foods that are moist, soft, and easy to chew or swallow. These include cooked cereals, mashed potatoes, and scrambled eggs.
  • Use a blender to puree cooked foods so that they are easier to eat. To help avoid infection, be sure to wash all blender parts before and after using them. If possible, it is best to wash them in a dishwasher.
  • Take small bites of food, chew slowly, and sip liquids while you eat.
  • Soften food with gravy, sauces, broth, yogurt, or other liquids.
  • Eat foods that are cool or at room temperature. You may find that warm and hot foods hurt your mouth or throat.
  • Ask your dietitian for ideas of foods that are easy to eat. 

 

Avoid things that can hurt, scrape, or burn your mouth, such as:

 

  • Sharp or crunchy foods, such as crackers and potato or corn chips
  • Spicy foods, such as hot sauce, curry dishes, salsa, and chili
  • Citrus fruits or juices such as orange, lemon, and grapefruit
  • Food and drinks that have a lot of sugar, such as candy or soda
  • Beer, wine, and other types of alcohol
  • Toothpicks or other sharp objects
  • Tobacco products, including cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco

 

Nausea and Vomiting

 

What they are and why they occur

 

Some types of chemotherapy can cause nausea, vomiting, or both. Nausea is when you feel sick to your stomach, like you are going to throw up. Vomiting is when you throw up. You may also have dry heaves, which is when your body tries to vomit even though your stomach is empty.

 

Nausea and vomiting can occur while you are getting chemotherapy, right after, or many hours or days later. You will most likely feel better on the days you do not get chemotherapy.

 

New drugs can help prevent nausea and vomiting. These are called antiemetic or anti-nausea drugs. You may need to take these drugs 1 hour before each chemotherapy treatment and for a few days after. How long you take them after chemotherapy will depend on the type of chemotherapy you are getting and how you react to it. If one anti-nausea drug does not work well for you, your doctor can prescribe a different one. You may need to take more than one type of drug to help with nausea. Acupuncture may also help. Talk with your doctor or nurse about treatments to control nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.

 

Ways to manage

 

Prevent nausea. One way to prevent vomiting is to prevent nausea. Try having bland, easy-to-digest foods and drinks that do not upset your stomach. These include plain crackers, toast, and gelatin. 

 

Plan when it is best for you to eat and drink. Some people feel better when they eat a light meal or snack before chemotherapy. Others feel better when they have chemotherapy on an empty stomach (nothing to eat or drink for 2 to 3 hours before treatment). After treatment, wait at least 1 hour before you eat or drink.

 

Eat small meals and snacks. Instead of three large meals each day, many people find it easier to eat if they have five or six small meals and snacks. It also helps not to drink a lot before or during meals and avoid lying down right after you eat.

 

Eat and drink items that are not too hot nor too cold. Give hot foods and drinks time to cool down, or make them colder by adding ice. You can warm up cold foods by taking them out of the refrigerator 1 hour before you eat or warming them slightly in a microwave. Drink cola or ginger ale that is warm and has lost its fizz.

 

Avoid strong smells. Try to avoid foods and drinks with strong smells, such as coffee, fish, onions, garlic, and foods that are cooking.

 

Suck on small bites of popsicles or fruit ices. You may also find sucking on ice chips helpful.

 

Suck on sugar-free mints or tart candies. However, do not use tart candies if you have mouth or throat sores.

 

Relax before treatment. You may feel less nausea if you relax before each chemotherapy treatment. Meditate, do deep breathing exercises, or imagine scenes or experiences that make you feel peaceful. You can also do quiet hobbies such as reading, listening to music, or knitting. 

 

When you feel like vomiting, breathe deeply and slowly or get fresh air. You might also distract yourself by chatting with friends or family, listening to music, or watching a movie or TV shows.

 

Talk with your doctor or nurse. Your doctor can give you drugs to help prevent nausea during and after chemotherapy. Be sure to take these drugs as ordered and let your doctor or nurse know if they do not work. You might also ask your doctor or nurse about acupuncture, which can help relieve nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatment.

 

Tell your doctor or nurse if you vomit for more than one day or right after you drink.

 

Nervous System Changes

 

What they are and why they occur

 

Chemotherapy can cause damage to your nervous system. Many nervous system problems get better within a year of when you finish chemotherapy, but some may last the rest of your life. Symptoms may include:

 

  • Tingling, burning, weakness, or numbness in your hands or feet
  • Feeling colder than normal
  • Pain when walking
  • Weak, sore, tired, or achy muscles
  • Being clumsy and losing your balance
  • Trouble picking up objects or buttoning your clothes
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Hearing loss
  • Stomach pain, such as constipation or heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion and memory problems
  • Dizziness
  • Depression

 

Ways to manage

 

Be careful when handling knives, scissors, and other sharp or dangerous objects.

 

Think about wearing gloves while gardening or cooking for extra protection.

 

Avoid falling. Walk slowly, hold onto handrails when using the stairs, and put no-slip bath mats in your bathtub or shower. Make sure there are no area rugs or cords to trip over.

 

Always wear sneakers, tennis shoes, or other lace-up footwear with rubber soles. Steady yourself when you walk by using a cane or other device.

 

Be careful when using hot water. Use a thermometer to check the temperature in your bath or ask someone to check it for you. Wear gloves when washing dishes. Think about lowering the temperature on your hot water heater.

 

Rest when you need to. Ask for help taking care of household tasks and errands.

 

Talk to your doctor or nurse. Let them know right away if you notice any nervous system changes, including memory problems and feeling confused or depressed. Ask for pain medicine if you need it.

 

Pain

 

What it is and why it occurs

 

Some types of chemotherapy cause painful side effects, such as burning, numbness, and tingling or shooting pains in your hands  and feet. They can also cause mouth sores, headaches, muscle pains, and stomach pains.

 

Pain can be caused by the cancer itself or by chemotherapy. Doctors and nurses have ways to decrease or relieve your pain.

 

Ways to manage

 

Talk about your pain with a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. Be specific and describe:

 

  • Where you feel pain. Is it in one part of your body or all over?
  • What the pain feels like. Is it sharp, dull, or throbbing? Does it come and go, or is it steady?
  • How strong the pain is. Describe it on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • How long the pain lasts. Does it last for a few minutes, an hour, or longer?
  • What makes the pain better or worse. For instance, does an ice pack help?
  • Or does the pain get worse if you move a certain way?
  • Which medicines you take for pain. Do they help? How long do they last?
  • How much do you take? How often?

 

Let your family and friends know about your pain. They need to know about your pain so they can help you. If you are very tired or in a lot of pain, they can call your doctor or nurse for you. Knowing about your pain can also help them understand why you may be acting differently.

 

Practice pain control.

 

  • Take your pain medicine as prescribed by your doctor. If you have pain all the time, your doctor may suggest that you take your pain medicine on a set schedule. If you are on a set schedule, take the pain medicine as prescribed, rather than waiting to feel like you need it. Pain is harder to control and manage if you wait until you are in a lot of pain before taking medicine.
  • Try deep breathing, yoga, or other ways to relax. This can help reduce muscle tension, anxiety, and pain. 

 

Ask to meet with a pain or palliative care specialist. This person may be an oncologist, anesthesiologist, neurologist, neurosurgeon, nurse, or pharmacist who will talk with you about ways to control your pain.

 

Tell your doctor, nurse, or pain specialist if your pain changes. Your pain can change over the course of your treatment. When this happens, your pain medications may need to be changed.

 

Sexual Changes

 

What they are and why they occur

 

Some types of chemotherapy can cause sexual changes. These changes are different for women and men.

 

In women, chemotherapy may damage the ovaries, which can cause changes in hormone levels. Hormone changes can lead to problems like vaginal dryness and early menopause.

 

In men, chemotherapy can cause changes in hormone levels, decreased blood supply to the penis, or damage to the nerves that control the penis, all of which can lead to impotence.

 

Whether or not you have sexual changes during chemotherapy depends on if you have had these problems before, the type of chemotherapy you are getting, your age, and whether you have any other illnesses. Some problems, such as loss of interest in sex, are likely to improve once chemotherapy is over.

 

Problems for WOMEN include:

 

Symptoms of menopause (for women not yet in menopause). These symptoms include:

 

  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Bladder or vaginal infections
  • Vaginal discharge or itching
  • Feeling irritable
  • Irregular or no menstrual periods
  • Being too tired to have sex or not being interested in having sex 
  • Feeling too worried, stressed, or depressed to have sex 

 

Problems for MEN include:

 

  • Not being able to reach climax
  • Impotence (not being able to get or keep an erection)
  • Being too tired to have sex or not being interested in having sex
  • Feeling too worried, stressed, or depressed to have sex

 

Ways to manage

 

For WOMEN:

 

Talk with your doctor or nurse about:

 

  • Sex. Ask your doctor or nurse if it is okay for you to have sex during chemotherapy. Most women can have sex, but it is a good idea to ask.
  • Birth control. It is very important to prevent pregnancy while having chemotherapy and for a year afterwards. Chemotherapy may hurt the fetus, especially in the first three months of pregnancy. If you have not yet gone through menopause, talk with your doctor or nurse about birth control and ways to keep from getting pregnant. They may suggest that you use two forms of birth control.
  • Medications. Talk with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about medications that help with sexual problems. Medications may include products to relieve vaginal dryness or a vaginal cream or suppository to reduce the chance of infection.

 

For MEN:

 

Talk with your doctor or nurse about:

 

  • Sex. Ask your doctor or nurse if it is okay for you to have sex during chemotherapy.
  • Most men can have sex, but it is a good idea to ask. Also, ask if you should use a condom when you have sex, since traces of chemotherapy may be in your semen.
  • Birth control. It is very important that your spouse or partner not get pregnant while you are getting chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can damage your sperm and cause birth defects.

 

For men AND women:

 

  • Be open and honest with your spouse or partner. Talk about your feelings and concerns.
  • Explore new ways to show love. You and your spouse or partner may want to show your love for each other in new ways while you go through chemotherapy. For instance, if you are having sex less often, you may want to hug and cuddle more, bathe together, give each other massages, or try other activities that make you feel close to each other.
  • Talk with a doctor, nurse, social worker, or counselor. If you and your spouse or partner are concerned about sexual problems, you may want to talk with someone who can help. This person can be a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, marriage counselor, sex therapist, or clergy member.

 

Skin and Nail Changes

 

What they are and why they occur

 

Some types of chemotherapy can damage the fast-growing cells in your skin and nails. While these changes may be painful and annoying, most are minor and do not require treatment. Many of them will get better once you have finished chemotherapy. However, major skin changes need to be treated right away because they can cause lifelong damage.

 

Minor skin changes may include:

 

  • Itching, dryness, redness, rashes, and peeling
  • Sensitivity to the sun (when you burn very quickly). This problem can happen even to people who have very dark skin color.
  • Hyperpigmentation, a problem that results in dark patches on your skin or a darker skin color. Dark patches may occur:

 

  • Around your joints
  • Under your nails
  • In your mouth
  • Along the vein used to give you chemotherapy
  • Under tape or dressingsIn your hair

 

  • Other nail problems. Besides becoming darker, your nails may also turn yellow or become brittle and cracked. Sometimes your nails will loosen and fall off, but new nails will grow back in.

 

Major skin changes can be caused by:

 

Radiation recall. Some chemotherapy causes skin in the area where you had radiation therapy to turn red. The color can range from very light to bright red. Your skin may blister, peel, or be very painful.

 

Chemotherapy leaking from your IV. You need to let your doctor or nurse know right away if you have burning or pain when you get IV chemotherapy.

 

Allergic reactions to chemotherapy. Some skin changes mean that you are allergic to the chemotherapy. Let your doctor or nurse know right away if you wheeze or have trouble breathing along with:

 

  • Sudden and severe itching
  • Rashes
  • Hives

 

Ways to manage

 

Itching, dryness, redness, rashes, and peeling

 

  • Sprinkle yourself with cornstarch.
  • Take quick showers or sponge baths instead of long, hot baths.
  • Pat, rather than rub, yourself dry after bathing.
  • Wash with a mild, moisturizing soap.
  • Put on cream or lotion while your skin is still damp after washing.
  • Tell your doctor or nurse if this does not help.
  • Do not use perfume, cologne, or aftershave lotion that has alcohol.
  • Take a colloidal oatmeal bath when your whole body itches. Colloidal oatmeal is a special powder you add to bath water.

 

Acne-type rash

 

  • Keep your face clean and dry.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse if you can use medicated creams or soaps and which ones to use.

 

Sensitivity to the sun

 

  • Avoid direct sunlight. During the summer, the sun tends to be the strongest from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
  • Use sunscreen lotion with an SPF (skin protection factor) of 15 or higher. Or use ointments that block the sun’s rays, such as those with zinc oxide.
  • Keep your lips moist with a lip balm.
  • Wear light-colored pants, long-sleeve cotton shirts, and hats with wide brims.
  • Do not use tanning beds.

 

Nail problems

 

  • Wear gloves when washing dishes, working in the garden, or cleaning the house.
  • Let your doctor or nurse know if your cuticles are red and painful.

 

Radiation recall

 

  • Protect the area of your skin that received radiation therapy from the sun.
  • Do not use tanning beds.
  • Place a cool, wet cloth where your skin hurts.
  • Wear clothes that are made of cotton or other soft fabrics. This includes your underwear (bras, underpants, and t-shirts).
  • Let your doctor or nurse know if you think you have radiation recall.

 

Urinary, Kidney, or Bladder Changes

 

What they are and why they occur

 

Some types of chemotherapy damage cells in the kidneys and bladder. Problems may include:

 

  • Burning or pain when you begin to urinate or after you empty your bladder
  • Frequent, more urgent need to urinate
  • Not being able to urinate
  • Not able to control the flow of urine from the bladder (also called incontinence)
  • Blood in the urine
  •  Fever
  •  Chills
  • Urine that is orange, red, green, or dark yellow or has a strong medicine odor

 

Some kidney and bladder problems will go away after you finish chemotherapy. Other problems can last for the rest of your life.

 

Ways to manage

 

  • You will have regular lab tests. Your doctor or nurse will take urine and blood samples to check how well your bladder and kidneys are working.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Fluids will help flush the chemotherapy out of your bladder and kidneys. 
  • Limit drinks that contain caffeine, such as black tea, coffee, and some cola products.

 

Talk to your doctor or nurse. Tell them if you have any of the problems listed above.