Managing symptoms and side effects

The person you are caring for may have different symptoms or treatment side effects. Their cancer doctor, specialist nurse or palliative care team can prescribe drugs or give advice on managing these. Always tell them if side effects or symptoms do not improve.

If the person you are caring for is having treatment, such as chemotherapy or other drugs, it is very important to follow the advice that the healthcare team gave you. For example, you may have been told to contact the hospital directly on a 24-hour number if they have a temperature or feel unwell.

We have more information about different cancer treatments and their side effects. Understanding more about this can help you support the person you are caring for.

Asking for help

Some of the things you may need to do as a carer may make you or the person you care for feel uncomfortable. Talk to a health professional or social worker if this happens. They may be able to arrange for other services to help you.

As a carer, you can get support from different health and social care professionals. You can also ask family and friends for help. Or contact support organisations.

Tips for washing and bathing

Having a regular wash, shower or bath can prevent skin problems or infections. It can also help the person feel more comfortable.

The district nurse or social worker may be able to arrange a care worker to help with bathing. If you prefer to do it yourself, they can show you how. Try to follow these tips:

  • Keep to their usual routine and use products they like.
  • Be safe – check the water is not too hot and the floor is not wet.
  • Be sensitive and protect their dignity.
  • Allow them to safely do what they can.

Tips for clothing

Some people prefer to wear the clothes they have always worn. It can help them feel more like themselves. But sometimes other clothes may be more suitable.

There are some things you can try:

  • Loose clothes may feel more comfortable.
  • Skirts or trousers with elastic waistbands can be easier to get on and off.
  • Layers that can easily be taken off and put back on are a good idea if they feel hot or cold easily.
  • Clothes that are easy to wash and dry and do not need much ironing may be more practical.

Tips for hair care

If the person you are caring for has hair loss due to cancer treatment, you should follow the advice of their cancer team.

You could try:

  • using a plastic hair-washing tray if they cannot get out of bed easily
  • using a rinse-free, waterless shampoo or shampoo cap that goes directly on their hair
  • or removing the shampoo by drying their hair with a towel.

Your local pharmacy can give you more information about these products. If the person needs a haircut, you could try to find a hairdresser or barber who does home visits.

Tips for nail care

Some treatments affect a person’s nails and make them more brittle. We have more information about looking after nails. The nurses at the hospital clinic can also give you advice.

Chiropodists or podiatrists who help treat foot problems can make home visits. The GP can arrange a referral to a chiropodist. This service is not always free, so check first. If the person you are caring for is diabetic, always ask a chiropodist to cut their toenails.

Some voluntary groups may provide manicures or pedicures at home.

Tips for managing toilet needs

If the person you are caring for needs help to go to the toilet, try to have their bedroom close to it. Ask the district nurse for a commode, bedpan or urinal to keep nearby.

Social services can provide aids, such as:

  • a raised toilet seat
  • a commode
  • or hand rails.

It can be difficult if the person you are caring for has problems with leaking from the bowel or bladder (incontinence).

A district nurse can give you advice about protective bed covers, pads or pants. They can also usually arrange a referral to a continence adviser. Social services may be able to provide laundry services.

Help with standing and walking

The person you are caring for may need your help to stand or walk. Ask a physiotherapist or district nurse for advice on doing this safely and how to prevent injuries. They can provide standing or walking aids. They can also do a falls assessment to give you information about how to prevent a fall.

It will also help to follow these tips:

  • Make sure there is good light inside the house, especially on stairs.
  • Make sure there is nothing in the floor that they can trip on, such as any wires or clutter.
  • Use non-slip mats or rugs.
  • Make sure you both wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes with a good grip.

If the person has a fall, do not move them. This is because you could hurt them or yourself by doing this. Contact the GP or district nurses for advice, or in an emergency call an ambulance.

A personal alarm may be a good idea if the person you are caring for is on their own some of the time. It allows them to call for help by pressing a button worn around their neck or wrist to alert a 24-hour response centre. The staff at the centre then send the best person to help.

A bed or chair sensor can detect if they have got up but not returned in a set time. It automatically sends an alert to a carer or emergency service.

Help with moving and turning

If the person you are caring for needs help moving or turning, the district nurse, physiotherapist or occupational therapist can show you how to do this safely. They may be able to arrange help from care workers, or provide equipment to help you. This could include a hoist or sling.

When a person is not able to move around much, they have a higher risk of getting pressure sores. To avoid this, they need to change how they are sitting or lying regularly. If they cannot do this on their own, a district nurse can show you how to move them. They can also provide a pressure-relieving mattress, and ankle or elbow pads to reduce the risk of pressure sores. Gently massaging the persons back, arms or legs with moisturising cream keeps their skin soft.

Your local Carers Trust carers’ centre may offer training in first aid and moving and handling. You could also speak to the GP or district nurse.

Help with medicines

You may need to help the person you are caring for take their medicines at the right times. Make sure they take them exactly as the cancer doctor or specialist nurse prescribed.


  • that the person’s name and medicine are correct on the label
  • that the medicine is in date
  • how often the medicine should be taken
  • how to take the medicine, for example, with or after food.

Ask your local or hospital pharmacist for advice and information about medicines.

You may find it helpful to use a pill organiser (dosette box) or a calendar blister pack. They both have separate compartments for tablets, showing the day and time they should be taken. A calendar blister pack comes pre-prepared by the pharmacy. Talk to the GP about getting a one of these.

Using a medication planner

A medication planner is a good way to keep a record of what needs to be taken and when.

This planner was developed with help from Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacists. They are available in some Boots stores and can help you with questions about medicines.