Side-Effects of Cancer Treatments

Source: Mayo Clinic

Because a cancer diagnosis is often distressing, usually due to the unknown, information is power. Learning about the side effects of cancer treatments, such as radiation, chemotherapy, surgery and pain medications, can help ease the fear associated with a cancer diagnosis. Although cancer treatment options, such as radiation and chemotherapy, reduce or eliminate cancer cells, they also kill healthy cells creating unwanted side effects. Surgery to remove cancerous tumors from the body requires a recuperation period, and pain medications to help with cancer pain can cause unwanted side effects.


During radiation therapy, redness and a burning sensation on the skin is very common. Other side effects, such as diarrhea, fatigue and mouth sores, can also occur from radiation therapy.


When chemotherapy effectively begins to reduce cancer cells during treatment, some cancer-originated symptoms may decrease. However, individuals also often experience chemotherapy side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, hair loss and infection(s).


Surgery performed to remove or reduce the size and spread of cancerous tumors can cause pain at the incision site and often involves a lengthy recovery period.

Pain Medication

All medications pose a risk of side effects. Before taking any prescribed medication, possible adverse reactions and side effects should be reviewed with a health care provider. The proper dosage of pain medication to resolve cancer-related pain should be discussed between the individual and the prescribing physician. Once the body determines the dosage needed for adequate pain relief, side effects, such as confusion, sleepiness and lethargy diminish over time.

Individuals taking strong pain medications, such as opioids, to manage cancer pain may also experience constipation. Health care providers often recommend taking stool softeners or laxatives to ease opioid-related constipation. Preventing constipation with stool softeners is easier than treating it with laxatives once it begins.

Even over-the-counter pain medications can have serious side effects if not taken at the recommended dose and/or if used for an extended period; aspirin and ibuprofen can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and acetaminophen can cause liver damage.

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