Managing Treatment Side Effects

Cancer and its treatments affect every person differently. The cancer team at Penn Medicine understands that the more patients know about how to manage their care and its side effects, the better they will feel.

Some of the more common issues cancer patients face during their treatment include:


Anxiety is a normal reaction to cancer. It may increase feelings of pain, interfere with sleep, cause nausea and interfere with the quality of life of the patient and family. Most patients who have ... Read More


Looking good is not a matter of vanity. Studies show that people who are pleased with how they look have more energy, more resilience and a better attitude. This helps them handle the ups and downs ... Read More

Blood count

Some types of cancer treatment may affect a patient’s blood counts.

  • White blood cells help to fight infections.
  • Platelets prevent bleeding and bruising.
  • ... Read More

Bone Health
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Changing feelings about intimacy

Feelings about close physical and intimate relationships are related to the way people think about how they look to others, their ability to handle physical activity, level of fatigue, sexuality, ... Read More

Changing taste and smell

A change in the way food may taste and/or smell can often be a side effect of cancer or cancer treatments. Here are a few tips and resources for improving the taste of your meals and decreasing any ... Read More


Constipation can result from cancer treatments, medications or from lack of fiber, fluids and movement. Patients should check with a doctor or nurse before using over-the-counter laxatives, stool ... Read More

Controlling Pain

Pain may be caused by different factors including diagnostic procedures, cancer treatment, the cancer itself, and other reasons not related to cancer. Pain, if not treated, may impact on the ... Read More


Dehydration can be a common but preventable side effect of many cancer treatments. Dehydration can be the result of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or inadequate fluid intake.

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Depression is a disabling illness that affects about 15 to 25% of cancer patients. Everyone who is diagnosed with cancer will react to the diagnosis in different ways and may not experience serious ... Read More


Some cancer medications can cause diarrhea. This can be a serious side effect because it can lead to dehydration if not properly managed. It is important for patients to check with their doctor or ... Read More

Difficulty with concentration and memory

People with cancer report memory, concentration and attention problems after chemotherapy. This is sometimes called “chemo brain.” Many survivors report they have problems paying ... Read More

Digestive Changes

Some cancer drugs and treatments can result in diarrhea or constipation. Some patients may also experience water retention or dehydration (loss of fluids).

Some ideas for relieving ... Read More

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth can be a debilitating side effect of many medications, cancer drugs and radiation to the head and neck. Patients who choose soft or moist foods such as tuna salad, cereal, pasta may find ... Read More

Eating well

Eating well during cancer treatment can be difficult at times but good nutrition during treatment can help decrease hospitalizations and delays in treatment and general well-being.

Patients ... Read More


People with cancer may feel tired during and after treatment. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery and other treatments may cause patients to have less energy. An infection, fever, poor ... Read More


Today, many patients who survive cancer can expect to live normal and productive lives. For some, returning to a “normal” life includes having children. However, cancer treatment can ... Read More

Fluid Retention

Swelling or puffiness in the face, hands, feet or abdomen can result from the fluids administered during chemotherapy or the chemotherapy itself, and should be discussed with a doctor or nurse. ... Read More

Hair Loss
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Loss of Appetite
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Lymphedema is chronic swelling that happens when the lymphatic fluid is not moving properly. It occurs as a result of poor function of lymph nodes or lymph vessels. Lymphedema results in chronic ... Read More

Mouth Sores

Mouth sores can be a painful side effect of cancer treatments and or radiation to the head and neck. Although, they usually heal within two weeks, here are some things patients can do to help mouth ... Read More

Nail and Skin Care
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There are different types of nausea that can be experienced during cancer treatment.

  • Anticipatory nausea is a learned response, and can be the result of anxiety prior to ... Read More

Neuropathic pain or neuropathy

Cancer treatment may damage a person's nervous system, and cause neuropathy, or problems with nerve function.

Common symptoms include:

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Pain Management
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Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)
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Coping with the stress of cancer and treatment side effects is challenging. Many cancer patients experience anxiety and feelings of depression. Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, isolated, tearful, and ... Read More

Talking to family and friends

While friends and family may try to do everything they can to help, cancer patients often feel sad, alone or out of control. They sometimes have trouble talking to friends and family who have not ... Read More