Side effects of cancer treatment
Most cancer treatments have side effects. It’s important to discuss your treatment fully with the healthcare team so you're aware of any that might affect you.
Side effects are usually short term and temporary. But sometimes they can be long term and rarely may be permanent.
Some side effects will have very little impact on your everyday life, while others may have more. For example, you may feel more tired than usual but can manage to continue working. But if you lose your hair, your feelings about your appearance and body image may be greatly affected. We have more information about the possible symptoms and side effects of treatment.
You’ll need to think about a number of things when deciding about treatment. This includes possible side effects and the impact on your social life, work, finances and family.
Having treatment is likely to affect your day-to-day life. For example, you may have to go into hospital for an operation and need time to recover or you may have to travel to hospital regularly for radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment. We have more information about how cancer treatment can affect travel.
You may be unable to work or continue your usual social life for a while. You may have to cancel any special events you have planned, such as weddings or holidays. You may be happy to delay your social life for a while so you can have your treatment and then recover from it. But you may be very busy or have some events planned that make it more difficult for you to do this.
Your healthcare team should be able to give you an idea of how long your treatment will last and how often you’ll need to visit the hospital. This may help you choose a treatment that best suits you.
It’s sometimes possible to plan treatment so that you can continue with your normal routine. Before deciding which treatment to have, ask your healthcare team whether the treatment can be planned to fit around your schedule. It won’t always be possible, but it’s worth asking.
If you can’t work because of treatment, you may find that you struggle to cope financially. Your doctor or nurse can refer you to a social worker or benefits adviser who can tell you about benefits and other sources of support. Your employer may also be able to help, so it’s worth talking to your manager or human resources department.
We have lots more information on coping with work when you have cancer that you might find helpful. We also have a useful section about managing your finances when you have cancer.
Taking part in a research trial
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You may be asked to take part in a research trial. Trials help improve knowledge about cancer. They may be done to develop new treatments, improve quality of life or to find the most cost-effective treatment.
Information about the trial
If you have been asked to take part in a trial, it can help to know why it is being done and what this may mean for you if you take part.
Often, a trial will compare the standard treatment for your situation with a new treatment that the researchers think may be better. You should discuss with your healthcare team the possible treatments in the trial and how they may affect you. Knowing about the different treatments will help you decide whether to take part or to have the standard treatment instead.
You can ask the doctor or nurse telling you about the trial any initial questions you have. They will often give you written information and probably introduce you to a research nurse, who will be able to answer any more questions you have.
Usually, several hospitals take part in these trials. It’s important to know that some treatments look promising at first, but may later be found to be less effective than existing treatments. Or they may have side effects that outweigh the benefits.
The benefits and disadvantages of taking part in a trial
You will be carefully monitored during and after the trial, and you may be asked extra questions about how you’re feeling and your general quality of life. The benefit of this extra attention is that any changes in your health may be noticed earlier than if you weren’t in a trial. These changes may be or may not be related to the treatment you are having.
You may need to go to your hospital or GP more often than normal. Ask how many extra visits will be needed and think about whether this will be okay for you. Remember that hospital appointments can be tiring and may cost you more money for travel and parking. You can ask if the research organisation will pay for additional travel costs and how to claim for the extra expense.
If you decide not to take part in a trial, your decision will be respected and you don’t have to give a reason. The hospital staff won’t treat you any differently and you’ll be offered the standard treatment for your situation. If you do decide to take part, you can withdraw from the trial at any time.
Finding a suitable trial
If you haven’t been offered a trial, it may be because there aren’t any suitable for you. Talk to your healthcare team about this. They should be able to tell you about trials in your area, and may know of other trials that might be suitable. Not all hospitals have the facilities or expertise to take part in some trials, so you may have to travel to a different hospital.
We have more information on cancer research trials (clincial trials) that you might find helpful to read.