The Most Common Side Effects of Cancer Treatment and How to Manage Them

Getting a cancer diagnosis is a terrifying prospect and a piece of news that can and does drastically change lives. However, with numerous medical advancements, cancer treatment options are only getting better and more diverse.

Companies like are developing and testing new cancer medication to help cancer sufferers’ odds at beating this vicious illness. However, most cancer treatment options come with some kind of a side effect. For the time being, these are unavoidable, but researchers are doing their best to mitigate them and to make the treatment as tolerable as possible.

Hair Loss

The first thing that needs to be clear is that hair loss is only temporary. Seeing how hair grows constantly, even though cancer patients may lose some or all of the hair, it will grow right back once the treatment is complete. Hair loss is typically a side effect of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, while other cancer treatments generally do not cause this problem.

Hair loss doesn’t affect everyone, and the first symptoms commonly occur within the first two weeks of treatment. There are some indications that a cold cap could mitigate or even prevent this problem. Patients who experience hair loss should be gentle when washing their hair and avoid any hair treatment that further damages the follicles, like ironing, hot curling, or even blow drying.

Sleep Problems

Like any other medical treatment, cancer therapy can result in disrupted or altered sleep patterns. A lot of people undergoing cancer treatment feel tired due to the medication which makes them sleep more. This is normal and can be tolerated up to a point. However, if the opposite occurs it may cause a lot of problems, as sleep deprivation is a serious medical issue all on its own.

The most commonly cited causes of sleep disorders in cancer patients are pain and anxiety or fear. Cancer patients need to sleep more, but they should do some physical exercises while they are awake. In order not to disturb the regular sleep cycle, it is advised that they nap during the day and sleep the necessary 8 hours at night.


Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment, though not everyone experiences it. What’s more, some people may feel the same amount of fatigue even months after the treatment has ended. There are no indications whether a person will suffer from this side effect or not, but if it does happen, the best way to overcome it is to rest sufficiently.

However, experts warn that resting too much can further reduce your energy levels in a vicious circle. Therefore, planning is important. Short naps during the day should complement a healthy dose of sleep during the night. Physical activity like light exercise and walking can help with fatigue and sleep problems. Keep in mind that more intensive exercise needs to be discussed with a doctor first.


Probably the most infamous side effect of cancer treatment is nausea and vomiting that typically accompanies it. A lot of people can go through the entire cancer treatment without experiencing this side effect, whereas others feel the full brunt of it by even thinking about therapy. Both radiation and chemotherapy can cause nausea, but there are other possible causes like infections or the cancer itself.

Nausea typically occurs between meals, so experts suggest eating more frequently. Distributing your daily food intake into small meals that are eaten throughout the day may offset the nausea, but sufferers should also consider drinking clear liquids like apple juice, water, and tea and eating bland food which will not induce nausea and vomiting as much.

Knowing about these side effects is important because it gives cancer patients time to prepare for the possible side effects and gives them the opportunity to get ready for them ahead of time.