Coping with side effects

Here are some hints and tips to help you manage your general well-being and cope with the side effects of chemotherapy.

Keep a chemotherapy diary: It can be useful to record information about your chemotherapy treatment so you remember details about any side effects you’re experiencing. It is important to share this information with your medical team in order for them to help you with suggestions for dealing with side effects or to adjust your treatment, if appropriate. Keeping a diary in paper form or logging information on a smartphone are ways of doing this.

Fatigue

FatigueFeeling tired and lacking energy (fatigue) is the most common, and often debilitating, side effect of chemotherapy. It can make you feel drowsy, confused or irritable and you might find it difficult to do daily activities. Fatigue can appear suddenly and rest may not relieve it. You might still feel tired for weeks or months after your treatment has finished.

Tips for managing fatigue:

Sickness and nausea

Nauseous womanChemotherapy may make you feel sick (nauseous) or be sick (vomit). Not everyone feels sick during or after chemotherapy, but if nausea does affect you, it usually starts a few hours after treatment. Nausea may last for many hours and be accompanied by vomiting or retching. Your oncologist will tell you if your chemotherapy treatment is likely to cause nausea and vomiting. Anti-sickness medication (known as anti-emetics) can help. Anti-emetics may be available as:

You may be prescribed medication before treatment to reduce the side effects. Some people find it takes some time before they find a medication that works for them. Let your nurse or doctor know if you still have nausea after a few days of taking the medication or if you have been sick for more than 24 hours.

Tips for coping with sickness & nausea:

Hair loss

side effects hair lossSome chemotherapy drugs used to treat pancreatic cancer will cause complete hair loss while others can cause your hair to thin, especially around the hairline.

When hair loss does occur, it usually starts 2–3 weeks after the first treatment and grows back after you have finished your treatment. In addition to hair loss, it can be common for the scalp to feel itchy, hot and tingly in the period when the hair is falling out.

It is common also to lose hair from other regions of the body such as your eyebrows, eyelashes, arms, legs, chest and pubic area.

Tips for coping with hair loss:

Skin problems

SkinIt can be common for your skin to react to chemotherapy treatment. Some people find that their skin becomes dry and itchy or begins to peel. Some people find that their skin darkens. It usually becomes more sensitive to the sun, so it is important to wear a high factor sunscreen and a hat when going outside, especially in the summer.

Tips for dealing with skin problems:

Mouth sores

mouthwash and toothbrushSome chemotherapy drugs can cause mouth sores such as ulcers or infections. If you notice any change in your mouth or throat, such as ulcers or thickened saliva, or if you find it difficult to swallow, contact your medical team.

If you have dental problems and need to see a dentist, speak to your doctor first. You should also tell your dentist that you are having chemotherapy.

Tips for dealing with mouth sores:

Constipation or diarrhoea

Toilet Roll ImageSome chemotherapy drugs, pain relief medicines and anti-sickness drugs can cause constipation or diarrhoea. Tell your doctor or nurse if your bowel habits change significantly.

Tips for dealing with constipation:

Tips for dealing with diarrhoea:

Infections

Infections_looking at thermometerChemotherapy treatment can cause a drop in the number of white blood cells which can make it harder for your body to fight infection. This makes colds and flu difficult to recover from, and means that cuts and scratches may take longer to heal and are more likely to get infected.

It is wise to see your GP if you feel unwell while having chemotherapy treatment even if it is just a cold. Talk to them about having the flu vaccine. If family or friends are suffering from colds or flu or tummy upsets, it is best to delay seeing them until they are better.

It is advisable to ensure you are cautious about hygiene by washing your hands when you have been out and/or carry alcohol gels to help prevent infection.

Signs that you may have an infection include shivering or shaking, headaches and flu like symptoms. Take your temperature if you get any of these symptoms. It is a good idea to keep a thermometer at home.

Contact your doctor urgently if any of the following occur:

Medication to increase neutrophils (G-CSF therapy)

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that help to protect you against infection. Chemotherapy can reduce the number of neutrophils in your blood which can leave you at a greater risk of picking up infections. Your blood will be tested for the neutrophil count before every chemotherapy session. If your neutrophil levels become too low, your doctor may prescribe an injection of granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) after chemotherapy to increase the number of neutrophils.

If you are given G-CSF, your doctor or nurse will speak to you about possible side effects. Some people may experience bone pain, tenderness at the injection site or show signs of an allergic reaction.

Tips for preventing/dealing with infections:

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Information Product No. PCA0031v1 | Published: 16/03/2015 | Last Updated: 06/05/2015 | Next Review Due: 16/03/2018