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How Do I Reduce Cancer Treatment Side Effects?

While a cancer diagnosis can have a huge impact on a person's life, modern medicine offers many treatment options for patients in all stages of the disease. Some cancer treatment side effects can make a patient feel worse than the disease itself, however, and it is important for people undergoing cancer treatment to try to reduce these side effects as much as possible. While managing the side effects depends on the type of cancer treatment, patients should get plenty of rest, eat a healthy diet, get exercise daily and try to avoid infections. Specific symptoms may require additional drugs or behavioral changes.

One of the most common treatments for cancer is chemotherapy, in which powerful drugs are used to kill cancerous cells and stop them from spreading. While chemotherapy can be a life-saving option for some patients, it often has many unpleasant side effects. These include anemia, fatigue, hair loss, pain, bleeding and abdominal complaints. A healthy lifestyle can help with many of these cancer treatment side effects, but it is also important to discuss any side effects with a doctor to see if the chemotherapy regime needs to be altered.

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Anemia, a common side effect of chemotherapy and some forms of cancer, occurs when there are not enough red blood cells in the body. This can lead to other symptoms, such as tiredness and dizziness. Chemotherapy patients should try to eat foods containing high levels of protein and iron. A daily multivitamin may also help get more iron into a patient’s diet. In some cases the patient may need to take iron supplements or receive blood transfusions to get back to a healthy iron level.

Hair loss is another of the common cancer treatment side effects of both radiation and chemotherapy. Some patients try to mitigate the hair loss by using mild shampoos and avoiding blow drying. Others elect to trim their hair short or shave it off entirely. Wigs may help cancer patients feel better about their appearance.

Chemotherapy also can cause excessive bleeding in some patients. This is one of several potentially serious cancer treatment side effects and should be discussed with a doctor or nurse. Some chemotherapy patients must use caution when caring for their teeth, blowing their nose and using sharp objects. Female patients should use pads instead of tampons. Always call the doctor if bleeding goes on too long or the condition worsens.

Abdominal complaints also are common in cancer patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. Constipation, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting may result from the treatment itself, changes in diet or as side effects of other drugs. Some patients find it easier to eat five or six small meals a day instead of a few larger meals. Eating foods that are easier on the stomach — such as bananas, white rice, applesauce, toast, tea and yogurt — may also help with these conditions. It is important to keep eating during cancer treatment to give the body the fuel it needs to fight both the disease and the cancer treatment side effects.

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