Browser does not support script.
Skip to main content
Find out how we produce our information|
The cancer or its treatment may cause symptoms or side effects|. Common side effects and ways of dealing with them are discussed here. We have more detailed information about different types of cancer| and treatment|.
Cancer and its treatment often make people feel very tired and weak. Fatigue| affects everyone differently and can have many different signs. Some people find that their tiredness is mild and doesn’t interfere much with their work, however it can have a significant impact for others. Some of the more common effects of fatigue are:
Fatigue can affect the way you think and feel. You may find it impossible to concentrate on anything, which may greatly affect your work.
Fatigue may also affect your relationships with your manager or colleagues. It can make you become impatient with people, or make you want to avoid socialising as it’s too much effort.
When you know a bit more about your treatment and what you may need, talking to your manager will help you plan so you’re able to do the work that’s most important when you feel least tired. It can help to keep a diary of your fatigue levels [PDF, 59kb]| so that you can track how your treatment affects your energy.
You can then arrange to do important work activities at a time when your energy levels are higher. Keeping a note of your energy levels will help you to identify the days when you’re best able to work, and you can then discuss this with your manager. There may be certain aspects of your role which are more tiring. These could be put on hold or delegated to others. See the work planning tips below.
Don’t feel that you have to work if you’re too tired. Or if you do want to carry on working, you may be able to find ways of making your work less tiring for a while.
You can use the fatigue diary to keep a record of your energy levels.
Energy levels can be described as:
Your manager may be able to help by:
Some cancer treatments, particularly chemotherapy|, can reduce the production of white blood cells which fight infection. If your level of white blood cells is very low, you’re more likely to get an infection|. Your doctor or nurse will tell you if your white blood cell count is low.
If it’s very low, you may not be able to work so you may need to warn your employer about this. It’s also a good idea to avoid people who have sore throats, colds, flu, diarrhoea and vomiting, or other kinds of infection such as chickenpox.
If you come into contact with anyone who has an obvious infection, it’s best to ask your hospital doctor or specialist nurse for advice as soon as possible. You may need to take medicines to prevent you from getting an infection.
It’s important to get some gentle exercise and fresh air during or after cancer treatment, but it’s good to avoid crowds where possible. This includes avoiding using public transport, especially during the rush hour, and crowded workplaces where you may be mixing with people who may have an infection.
Some chemotherapy drugs affect the nerves in the hands and feet. There may be increased sensitivity, sensations such as numbness or pins and needles, or pain in the hands and feet. This is called peripheral neuropathy|. The sensations and numbness can make it difficult to hold things or to write or type. This can sometimes mean you take longer to carry out your normal tasks at work.
Some people may find it difficult to carry on working if they have this side effect. It will usually get better once you have finished your treatment but it can take weeks or months for you to fully recover.
Cancer and its treatment can sometimes affect your appearance. For example, you may have changes in your skin or weight, hair loss|, or scars from surgery. This may be hard to cope with, especially if your work involves meeting the public, performing or working face-to-face with customers.
There are things you can do to help make the best of your appearance, and there are organisations which can offer you support. Some hospitals have programmes run by Look Good...Feel Better|, which helps women manage the visible side effects of treatment and feel confident about how they look.
For some people, it may help to change the way they work, if possible. For example, you could talk to clients in a teleconference from home, instead of meeting them in person.
We have more information and advice on coping with body changes|.
There may be a number of other symptoms or side effects depending on the type of cancer you have and cancer treatment you’re given. For example, some people find that they have effects such as soreness or pain|, feeling sick| or problems with eating|. If you have any symptoms or side effects due to your treatment, your doctors can usually prescribe medicines to help reduce them.
If the symptoms or side effects continue, let your doctor know so that more effective treatments can be prescribed. Sometimes, changing the time you take the medicines can make them more effective. You can discuss this with your doctor or nurse.
Content last reviewed: 1 May 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
If you have any questions about Macmillan we would love to hear from you| .
You can also follow us| on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or YouTube.
© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
what are these?|