When side effects continue after cancer treatment ends

March 18, 2016 Providence Guest Blogger

By Jennifer Moore, RN, BSN, Oncology Nurse Navigator, Providence Cancer Survivor Program

When cancer treatment ends, a lot of people expect their lives to return to normal right away. So it can be frustrating when the side effects you experienced during treatment linger longer than expected.

Some side effects can continue for weeks, months or even years. But let me assure you: Things do get better. After a while, your energy will improve, your appetite will return and you will begin to feel more like yourself.

In the meantime, try to keep in mind that it took time–and some pretty powerful therapies–to treat your cancer, and it will take time to recover from everything you've been through. 

Five common long-term side effects

The side effects that most commonly persist after cancer treatment are:

  1. Fatigue: This feeling of being intensely tired, physically and emotionally, is nearly universal among cancer survivors, and it can last for months or even years after treatment is over.
  2. Chemo-brain: That’s the term commonly used to describe problems with memory, word-finding, multitasking and attention – a very real side effect that can happen even if you didn’t have chemotherapy.
  3. Lymphedema: This buildup of fluid causes swelling, usually in an arm or a leg, after lymph nodes have been removed or damaged.
  4. Peripheral neuropathy: Caused by damage to tiny nerve fibers, often in the fingers and toes, this can affect the sensitivity in your hands and feet and can cause sensations of tingling, numbness, pins and needles, burning or shock-like pain.
  5. Issues with muscles, joints and bones: Muscle weakness and joint pain can be the result of the cancer treatment itself and the reduction in physical activity that often occurs during treatment. Many cancer treatments also cause bone loss or osteoporosis, which increases the risk of broken bones.

It’s important to talk to your oncology team about any symptoms you’re having. All of these lingering side effects can be treated, either by your medical team or with good self-care. There also are several things you can do to feel better, faster:

Your recovery to-do list

  • Be gentle with yourself, and understand that all of this is a normal part of recovery.
  • Eat healthy foods in moderate portions. Include protein to rebuild your muscles and aid in healing.
  • Get some exercise every day. Studies show that it can help reduce cancer-related fatigue and many other side effects.
  • Make time to feed your spirit with the things that enrich you.
  • Work closely with your health care team to manage ongoing side effects, and let your team know about any new symptoms you experience.
  • Give yourself time to process what you’ve been through, and to allow the physical effects of your treatment to wear off.
  • Don’t let anything discourage you from living every day the best way you can. 

You had a serious disease, and you lived to talk about it. That's a pretty powerful statement. Remembering that will give you a strength that you didn't know you had.

For more information and cancer resources

Find a cancer center in your area.

Previous Article
Recipe Whole Wheat Scones
Recipe Whole Wheat Scones

Next Article
Advance directives: Everyone needs one
Advance directives: Everyone needs one

Do you have an advance directive? Read about how an advance directive gave one woman peace of mind.