Immediate treatment effects

For some people the side effects of treatment may take a few weeks or months to improve, even after treatment has finished. Your doctor or nurse can talk to you about possible side effects and what to expect. They can give you advice on dealing with side effects and can prescribe medicines if needed.

Some immediate side effects can include:

  • tiredness
  • pain
  • peripheral neuropathy – a slight damage to the nerves, which usually gets better with time
  • changes to your eating habits
  • changes to how your body looks or functions
  • changes to your sex life
  • early menopause
  • infertility.

Dealing with on-going treatment side effects

Many treatment side effects go away at the end of treatment. But some may take weeks or occasionally months to improve. Some treatments cause side effects that happen months or years after treatment. These are called late effects. Some people may also be adjusting to permanent body changes as a result of their treatment.

Always let your cancer doctor or nurse know about side effects or any symptoms you have. There’s usually something they can do to improve it. They can also give you advice on how to 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.


Immediate or on-going treatment effects

Tiredness

Most people are very tired when treatment finishes. You may find it hard to do simple day-to-day things or even to concentrate on anything for long. This can last from 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 and you can increase how much you do gradually.

Pain

Occasionally, cancer treatments can result in on-going (chronic) pain. Surgery or radiotherapy may limit movement or damage nerves in the treated area. This can cause pain or discomfort which may take weeks or sometimes months to improve. If you are in pain, let your cancer team know. They can prescribe drugs or a treatment to control the pain. They can also refer you to a pain specialist if needed.

Peripheral neuropathy

Some chemotherapy drugs can damage the nerves in your feet, legs, hands and arms. This is called peripheral neuropathy. You may notice tingling or numbness, and have difficulty with tasks, such as doing up small buttons. Always let your doctor or nurse know if you have these symptoms. They can prescribe drugs to help and give you advice. Peripheral neuropathy gradually improves when treatment is over, but for a small number of people it can be permanent. 

Body changes

Coping with changes in how your body looks or functions as a result of treatment can be one of the hardest challenges you’ll face. Body changes can affect your self-esteem and your confidence. But in time, and with the right support, people often find they’re able to adjust. Your specialist nurse and other health professionals can support you and explain how to manage body changes.

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. Your partner may be supportive and not have any problem with your changed appearance and be supportive. You and your partner may 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.


Changes to your sex life

Some cancer treatments can affect your sex life and how you feel about yourself.

Women

Early menopause can cause vaginal dryness or loss of sex drive. You can buy creams or lubricants to help with the dryness and make having sex more comfortable. There are also creams or gels that your doctor can prescribe.


Coping with early menopause

If you have not been through the menopause already, your cancer treatment may cause this. Surgery to remove the ovaries will bring on the menopause straight away. Chemotherapy may cause it more gradually.

Some of the main physical effects of the menopause are:

  • hot flushes
  • vaginal dryness
  • lowered sex drive (libido)
  • mood changes.

This can be difficult, particularly when you are already coping with cancer. You can have treatment and support to cope with any symptoms and the emotional effects of early menopause. You can also have treatment to protect you from the long-term effects of menopause, such as brittle bones (osteoporosis) and heart disease.

You may be offered:

  • advice and support from your GP or a specialist who treats women with early menopause
  • treatment and advice to help you cope with symptoms
  • hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or a type of hormonal contraceptive to prevent long-term effects.

Your doctor will explain the possible risks and benefits of any treatment to you. Some women cannot take HRT safely because of the type of cancer they have.


Infertility

Some cancer treatments can cause infertility. Losing your fertility can be very distressing, whatever your situation. Some people find it helpful to talk things over with a trained counsellor. Your doctor or nurse can arrange this.