Side effects of cancer treatment
Most cancer treatments have side effects. We have information about the possible side effects of many cancer treatments, but it’s important to discuss your treatment fully with the healthcare team that is planning your treatment.
Side effects are usually short term and temporary, although sometimes they can be long term and, rarely, may be permanent. Some treatments can affect fertility.
Some side effects will have very little impact on your everyday life while others may have a much greater impact. For example, you may feel more tired than usual but can manage to carry on working. But if you lose your hair because of the treatment, your feelings about your appearance and yourself may be significantly affected.
It’s important to consider a variety of things when deciding about treatment, including the physical side effects and the potential impact on your social life, work, finances and family life.
Having treatment is very likely to affect your day-to-day life. You may need to go into hospital for an operation, for example, or you may have to travel to hospital regularly for radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment. You may be unable to work or continue your usual social life for a while. The treatment may mean that you can’t attend a special event – such as a wedding – or go on a planned holiday.
You may be happy to put your life ‘on hold’ for a period of time so that you can have the treatment and then recover from it. However, you may have a very busy life or have some major events planned over the coming months. That may make it difficult for you to accept the effects of some treatments.
If you’ve been offered different treatments that are equally effective, it can help to get an idea of exactly how long each will last and how often you’ll need to visit the hospital. This may help you decide which treatment best suits you.
It’s sometimes possible to plan treatment so that you’re able to carry on your normal routine and do the things you want to. Before deciding which treatment to have, ask your doctor and specialist nurse whether the treatment can be planned to fit around your schedule. It won’t always be possible, but it’s worth asking.
If you’re unable to work because of treatment, you may find that you struggle to cope financially. Your doctor or nurse can refer you to see a social worker or benefits adviser who can advise you about benefits and other sources of support. Your employer may also be able to help in some way, so it’s worth talking to your manager or human resources department. You can also speak to our cancer support specialists.
Taking part in a trial
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You may be asked to take part in a treatment research trial. Trials help improve knowledge about cancer and develop new treatments. They may be done to improve quality of life or to find the most cost-effective treatment.
There can be many benefits in taking part in a research trial. But you may need to go to your hospital or GP more often than you normally would, so bear this in mind before you agree to take part.
If you’ve been asked to take part in a trial, it can help to know more about why the trial is being done and what taking part in it may mean for you.
If you don’t take part in the trial you will be given the standard treatments for your situation, so you should also discuss what these are and how they may affect you. Knowing about the different treatments will help you decide whether to take part in the trial or to have the standard treatment.
When the research trial is first discussed with you, you should have an opportunity to have your immediate questions answered. You should be given written information about the trial, and you will probably be introduced to a research nurse, who will be able to answer any further questions.
Usually, several hospitals around the country take part in these trials. It’s important to bear in mind that some treatments that look promising at first are often later found to be less effective than existing treatments or to have side effects that outweigh the benefits.
You will be carefully monitored during and after the study. You’ll have regular tests, and you may be asked some 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 – whether or not they’re related to the treatment you are having – may be picked up earlier than if you weren’t in a trial.
Ask how many extra visits will be needed and think about how convenient this will be for you. Remember that hospital appointments can be tiring and may cost you more money for travel. You can also ask if the research organisation will pay for additional travel costs and, if so, ask how you can 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. There will be no change in the way you are treated by the hospital staff 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. We have more information about understanding cancer research trials (clinical trials).