Find information about common side effects that can be caused by cancer and cancer treatment.

Changes in Mood or Thinking

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause changes in mood such as depression or anxiety. It can also cause confusion and trouble thinking.


Everything in the body contains fluid (water). The human body must have a certain amount of liquid, and not having enough can be serious. Fluid balance means that the body’s fluids are properly regulated and in the right places. Swelling is mostly caused by too much water in the body. Dehydration is not having enough water in the body or not having enough fluid where it’s needed in the body. Keep in mind that fluid comes from both food and drink, so a person who isn’t eating must drink more to make up the difference.

Eating Problems

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause eating problems. This can include changes in appetite or weight, or other side effects that make it hard to eat.


A person who is unsteady on their feet, a little confused, or just weak is at high risk for falling. A person who has these problems is likely to fall while trying to get out of bed. Or they can fall off the toilet, slip in the bathtub or shower, or lose their balance as they’re walking.


Fatigue is one of the most common and distressing side effects of cancer and its treatment. Fatigue from cancer treatment is often more intense than the feelings of being tired we all have from time to time.

Fertility and Sexual Side Effects

Sexuality isn’t just the sex act. It includes holding hands, special looks, hugging, kissing, etc. . . It’s important that you talk about any questions or concerns with your cancer team, and even more important that you talk with your partner. Remember that warmth, caring, and physical and emotional closeness are as necessary and rewarding as anything else in your relationship.

Chemo, radiation, and some types of surgery for cancer can affect fertility in both men and women – some people won’t be able to have children. In women, treatment may cause early menopause. Men might not be able to make normal sperm. It’s hard to predict the outcome for any one person. Some people are still fertile after treatment; others are not.

Chemo and radiation can also cause birth defects if a child is conceived during treatment or within a few weeks of ending treatment. Avoid pregnancy during chemo or radiation. Find out how long you should wait after your specific type of treatment before trying to conceive. Ask what you should expect and talk about any plans to have children. If you want children later, do this before treatment begins.


Fever is a body temperature of 100.5° F or higher (when taken by mouth) that most often goes up and down over the course of a day. Fever is usually caused by an infection. Other causes of fever include inflammatory illness, drug reactions, or tumor growth. Sometimes, the cause may not be known. In an infection, the fever is a result of the body “heating up” to try to fight invading germs. Fever is an important natural defense against germs.

People getting chemo are more likely to have infections because they have lower numbers of the white blood cells needed to fight them. You can buy an easy-to-use oral thermometer (one made to take your temperature by mouth) at any drugstore so you can check to see if you have a fever.

Hair Loss

Hair is constantly growing, with old hairs falling out and being replaced by new ones. Some cancer treatments make people lose some or all of their hair, most often in clumps during shampooing or brushing. Sometimes, clumps of hair are found on the pillow in the morning.

It’s normal for both men and women to feel upset about losing their hair. It helps to know that hair grows back, and you can take steps to make its loss less of problem for you.

Hair is lost when chemotherapy drugs damage hair follicles, making hair fall out. It can be hard to predict which patients will lose their hair and which ones won’t, even when they take the same drugs. Some drugs can cause hair loss on the scalp and the loss of pubic hair, arm and leg hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Some drugs cause only the loss of head hair. Radiation therapy to the head often causes scalp hair loss. Sometimes, depending on the dose of radiation to the head, the hair does not grow back the same as it was before.

If hair loss is going to happen, it most often starts within 2 weeks of treatment and gets worse 1 to 2 months after starting therapy. Your scalp may feel very sensitive to washing, combing, or brushing. But hair often starts to grow back even before treatment ends.


Hiccups happen when the diaphragm (the main muscle used in breathing) suddenly contracts between normal breaths. Hiccups can be caused by irritation of the nerve that controls the diaphragm, certain drugs, problems in the brain, problems in the esophagus (the swallowing tube that goes from the throat to the stomach), pressure on the stomach, and other conditions. Hiccups that last a long time can be serious. They can interfere with eating, sleeping, and breathing, and lead to exhaustion. There’s not a lot of research on managing hiccups, but here are some of the things people have found useful.


Infections in people who have cancer or are getting cancer treatment can be more serious than those in other people. They can also be harder to treat. By learning more about them, you and your family may be able to help prevent problems that infections can cause.

Cancer itself can increase your risk of getting a serious infection. So can certain types of cancer treatment. By learning more about infections, you and your family may be able to help prevent problems that they can cause.

Leg Cramps

Leg cramps or spasms are a painful tightening of the muscles in the leg. Staying in bed for long periods of time sometimes can cause leg or foot cramps. Dehydration, certain drugs, overuse, and brain or nerve diseases can also cause cramps. Other causes of cramping are pressure on the calf muscles or on the back of the knee, too much phosphorus, too little calcium, low blood sugar, or too little potassium in the body. All of these are imbalances in blood chemistry.

Low Blood Count

Cancer and cancer treatment often cause drops in blood count levels. The problems caused by low blood counts depend on which type of blood cell is affected.

When you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells, you have a condition called anemia. This means your blood has too little hemoglobin (Hgb), the part of the red blood cell (RBC) that carries oxygen to all the cells in your body.

Anemia often starts slowly, so you may not even notice symptoms at first. As your hemoglobin level gets lower you may have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Fast heart beat

When you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells, you have a condition called anemia. This means your blood has too little hemoglobin (Hgb), the part of the red blood cell (RBC) that carries oxygen to all the cells in your body.

Anemia often starts slowly, so you may not even notice symptoms at first. As your hemoglobin level gets lower you may have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Fast heart beat
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Trouble breathing when doing things like walking, climbing stairs, or even talking
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling in the hands and/or feet
  • Pale skin, nail beds, mouth, and gums
  • Extreme tiredness

Severe tiredness and weakness are often the symptoms that bother people most. Cancer itself and cancer treatment such as Radiation and Chemotherapy can cause anemia.

Cancer and cancer treatments can lower the number of platelets in your blood. Platelets are cells that help your blood clot, so you stop bleeding.

A normal platelet (PLT) count on a blood test is about 150,000 to 450,000. Normal clotting is still possible with a platelet count of 100,000. The risk of serious bleeding is very high when the platelet count goes below 20,000.


Lymph-edema is a build-up of lymph fluid in the fatty tissues just under your skin. This build-up causes swelling (or edema), most often in the arms or legs. Lymph-edema can result from surgery or radiation therapy to treat certain cancers.

Mouth Problems

Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can cause side effects such as dry mouth, or cause sores to develop in the mouth.

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea is a subjective unpleasant feeling in the back of your throat and stomach that may lead to vomiting. There are many words that describe nausea including sick to my stomach, queasy, or upset stomach. Nausea can have other symptoms that happen at the same time, such as increased saliva (spit), dizziness, light-headedness, trouble swallowing, skin temperature changes, and a fast heart rate.

Vomiting is also described as “throwing up.” When you vomit, your stomach muscles contract (squeeze) and push the contents of your stomach out through your mouth. You might or might not feel nauseated.

Retching is when you try to vomit without bringing anything up from your stomach. Other words used to describe retching are gagging or dry heaves.

Nausea and vomiting often happen at the same time, but they can be 2 different problems.

Nausea and/or vomiting in the person with cancer can be caused by many different things, such as:

  • Chemotherapy (also called chemo)
  • Radiation therapy
  • The cancer itself, especially if it’s in or affecting the brain


An ostomy (or stoma) is a surgical opening made in the skin as a way for waste products to leave the body. An ostomy can allow wastes to leave from the intestines (ileostomy or colostomy) or from the bladder (urostomy).


Having cancer does not always mean having pain. But if you do have pain, there are many different kinds of medicines, different ways to take the medicines, and non-drug methods that can help relieve it.

Having cancer does not always mean having pain. But if you do have pain, there are many different kinds of medicines, different ways to take the medicines, and non-drug methods that can help relieve it.

Pain can affect all parts of your life. If you have pain, you might not be able to take part in your normal day-to-day activities. You may have trouble sleeping and eating. You may be irritable with the people you love. It’s easy to get frustrated, sad, and even angry when you’re in pain. Family and friends don’t always understand how you’re feeling, and you may feel very alone.

You should never accept pain as a normal part of having cancer. All pain can be treated, and most pain can be controlled or relieved. When pain is controlled, people can sleep and eat better, enjoy being with family and friends, and continue with their work and hobbies.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Some chepotherapy drugs can cause peripheral neuropathy, a set of symptoms caused by damage to nerves that control the sensations and movements of our arms and legs. Find out more about peripheral neuropathy and how to deal with it. chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CINP) can cause severe pain and can affect your ability to do things like walk, write, button your shirt, or pick up coins. If it gets very bad, it can cause more serious problems like changes in your heart rate and blood pressure, dangerous falls, trouble breathing, paralysis, or organ failure. Talk to your doctor or nurse right away about any symptoms of CIPN that you have. They’ll want to watch you closely to see if the problems get worse. They may need to change your treatment plan.


Prostheses (pross-THEE-sees) are man-made substitutes for missing body parts. (“Prostheses” refers to more than one; just one is called a prosthesis, pronounced pross-THEE-sis.) Sometimes, parts of the body must be removed if they contain cancer that could grow and spread. Prostheses are used to help a person look as though the body part had never been removed, and to help the person function as naturally as possible.

There are many different types of prostheses. Some are worn on the outside of the body and can be put on and taken off (external prostheses), and others are implanted during surgery. People with cancer may need prostheses for the breasts, legs, or testicles, or an implant for the penis. Wigs used to cover the short-term hair loss that happens with some kinds of chemo can be thought of as prostheses, too.


A seizure is the uncontrolled movement of muscles. It happens when nerve cells in the brain become overexcited and don’t work properly. Seizures usually last less than 5 minutes. They are followed by sleepiness and confusion that can last for several hours. Seizures in cancer patients can be caused by high fevers, head injury, serious infections of the fluid around the spine and brain, an imbalance in body chemistry, and tumor growth in the spine or brain.

Shortness of Breath

If the patient is having trouble breathing, the body might not get enough oxygen. Either the lungs can’t take in enough air, or the body can’t get enough oxygen through the bloodstream. A number of different problems can cause this, such as lung disorders, blocked airways, pneumonia (a lung infection), weak breathing muscles, or obesity. It can also be caused by pain, immobility, poor nutrition, stress or anxiety, allergic reactions, surgery, anemia, the side effects of cancer treatment (such as surgery, chemo, or radiation), a tumor, fluid in the lungs, heart failure, and other problems.

Skin Problems

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause skin changes and problems including dry skin, itchiness, color changes. People with cancer might also have to deal with scars, wounds, or pressure sores.

Sleep Problems

Any change in your usual sleeping habits can cause a sleep problem. People who are getting treatment for cancer may get more tired and may need to sleep more than usual. Sometimes, the opposite occurs and people have trouble sleeping. Reasons for changes in usual sleeping habits include pain, anxiety, worry, depression (see the related sections), night sweats, or the side effects of treatment or medicines.

Stool or Urine Changes

Cancer and cancer treatment can cause changes in stool like diarrhea or constipation. It can also cause blood in stool or urine, or urinary incontinence.


Sweating is heavy perspiration that can happen at night or even when the room is cool. There may be enough to soak your clothes. Such sweating is common when a fever breaks. You may notice that you sweat a lot a short time after shaking chills


Swelling (edema) is a build-up of water in the tissues. This can be caused by retaining salt and water due to medicines or heart, liver, or kidney failure. It can sometimes be due to poor nutrition, pelvic tumors, or a blockage in the veins or lymph system. Fluid can also build up in the belly. It can make the belly hard and swollen.


A person who has trouble moving may have general weakness and problems walking, and they may find it hard to get from one place to another. When a person spends a lot of time in bed, muscles get weaker. Other things that can make it hard to move include pain in the joints or legs, as well as some treatment side effects. It’s important to move and exercise as much as possible to help prevent new problems. Other problems caused by being less active may include poor or no appetite, constipation, skin sores, problems with breathing, stiff joints, worsening fatigue, and mental changes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment