Side effects of treatment

After treatment finishes, you may still have side effects. Or you may be adjusting to body changes from treatment like surgery. Side effects usually gradually go away after treatment finishes. Side effects can include tiredness, eating difficulties or bowel or bladder problems.

Occasionally, certain side effects become permanent or develop months or years after treatment. These are called late effects.

Some treatments can affect how you see and feel about your body (body image). This can be hard to cope with, but your doctor and nurse can give you help and advice. You will need to give yourself time to adjust to body changes.

Always tell your doctor or nurse about any side effects or symptoms you have. They will give you advice on how you can manage them. There is usually something they can do to help.  

If you are taking on-going treatments to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back and have side effects, tell your doctor or nurse. It is very important not to stop taking your drugs without talking to your doctor or nurse first.

Managing treatment side effects

Although your treatment is over, you may still be coping with side effects from your treatment. In this section, we have included some examples of possible side effects after treatment. We also have more information about the different types of cancer and cancer treatments.

After treatment, some people may also be adjusting to permanent body changes because of treatments such as surgery.

If you are still taking hormonal therapy or a targeted therapy drug, you may have on-going side effects. These drugs can be given for a few years or longer to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Treatment side effects usually gradually go away after treatment finishes. But some take weeks or even months to improve. Occasionally, certain side effects become permanent or they may develop months or years after treatment. These are called late effects of treatment.

Always let your cancer doctor or nurse know about side effects or any symptoms you have. There is usually something they can do to improve them. They can also give you advice on what you can do to help manage your side effects.


Tiredness (fatigue)

Most people are very tired when treatment finishes. You may find it hard to do simple day-to-day things. You might also have trouble concentrating on anything for long. This can last for a few weeks or months, or occasionally longer. This will gradually get better.

Plan your day and pace yourself so you have time to do the things you most want to do. Try to get a good balance between getting plenty of rest and being active. Taking some gentle exercise can help reduce tiredness. You can gradually increase how much you do as you get used to exercising.

I set myself goals to deal with fatigue. I started off doing little things, like tasks around the house. Just bits at a time. Slowly, my fatigue started to improve.

Denton


Pain

Occasionally, cancer treatments can result in on-going (chronic) pain. Surgery or radiotherapy may limit your movement or damage nerves in the treated area. This can cause pain or discomfort that may take weeks or sometimes months to improve.

If you are in pain, let your cancer team know. They may be able to prescribe drugs or a treatment to control the pain. They can also refer you to a pain specialist if needed.

A referral to a physiotherapist may help to make sure you have as much movement as possible. An occupational therapist may also be able to help by providing splints to support painful joints. They can also give you some aids or equipment to help make it easier to do certain things at home. It is important to keep up with any exercises you have been asked to do. This can prevent problems with pain in the future. Contact your physiotherapist or doctor if you are having difficulties doing your exercises.


Peripheral neuropathy

Some chemotherapy drugs can damage the nerves in your feet, legs, hands and arms. This is called peripheral neuropathy. You may notice numbness or tingling and have difficulty with tasks, such as doing up small buttons. Always tell your doctor or nurse if you have these symptoms. They can prescribe drugs to control nerve pain and give you advice on how to manage it. Peripheral neuropathy may gradually improve when treatment is over, but for some people it can be permanent.


Bowel and bladder side effects

Treatment with surgery or radiotherapy to the lower tummy area (pelvis) can cause side effects such as diarrhoea or needing to pass wee (urine) more often. These may take up to a few weeks after treatment has finished to go away. Tell your doctor if they don’t improve.

Follow any advice you have been given at the hospital about changing your diet. If you have diarrhoea, you should drink plenty of fluids. Your doctor can prescribe drugs to control diarrhoea.

With bladder side effects, it is important to drink plenty of fluids. Drink at least 2 to 3 litres (3.5 to 5.5 pints) of fluids a day. Your doctor can prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to help improve side effects.


Eating problems

Treatments to any part of your digestive system, for example the bowel, stomach or gullet, may affect the foods you can eat. If you have had treatment to your head or neck area, it may have affected the way you eat. These problems often improve over time as you learn to cope with them.

Always ask a dietitian on your cancer team to advise you about eating difficulties. Getting enough energy and nutrition from your diet is important to help you to recover. There are different supplement drinks you can take. Some of these are available on prescription.

If your weight has changed during treatment, you may want to look at ways of getting to a healthy weight.


Concerns about body image

Coping with changes in how your body looks or works because of treatment effects can be difficult. It can affect how you see and feel about your body image. Body image is the picture in your mind of how your body looks and works. It can also affect your self-esteem, your confidence and how you feel about yourself sexually. It is important to let your cancer doctor or nurse know if you have concerns about your body image. There are different ways they can help and support you.

If you have a partner, you may worry about their reaction. It helps to try to talk as openly as you can with each other. You may both need some time to adjust. Sometimes it can help to talk to a psychologist, a counsellor or a support group. You can ask your doctor or nurse to arrange this for you.

After I had my mastectomy, I felt very strange. It didn’t feel like it was my body. It took a little while to get myself to look in the mirror.

Heather


On-going treatment effects

After treatment is finished, some people may have on-going treatment, for example with a hormonal therapy or a targeted therapy drug. These treatments may be given to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

If you have side effects, some may improve within a few months of starting the drug. Others can usually be managed in different ways.

Always talk to your cancer doctor or nurse about any side effects, especially if they are affecting your quality of life. It is very important that you do not stop taking any on-going treatment without talking to your doctor first, as it may affect the success of your treatment. They can usually suggest ways to help or make changes to the way you take the drug. If these do not work, they may suggest changing the drug.

Back to Managing treatment effects

Late effects of treatment

Late effects are side effects of treatment that don’t improve or develop months or years after treatment finishes.