Table Of Content

Dealing with side effects

Side effects are unwanted and undesired treatment effects, otherwise known as adverse drug reactions. Side effects differ from one person to another, and not everyone may experience them. While treating cancer, various side effects can occur. These side effects may vary from one patient to another, even though they might be given the same treatment.

Although side effects are common, they might make the patient feel worse. Some common side effects can effectively be managed at home, while some might require medical assistance.

Common side effects of cancer treatment

1. Nausea and Vomiting:

Nausea and vomiting are the side effects that commonly occur as a result of various cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. Nausea and vomiting can be mild or severe.

Nausea is an uncomfortable feeling where the patient feels queasy or sick in the stomach. Whereas vomiting means throwing up the contents of the stomach (food or liquid).

Tips to Manage Nausea and Vomiting:

  • Eating small meals throughout the day (5- 6 small meals and not three large meals)
  • Sucking on hard candies flavored with peppermint or lemon to get rid of the foul taste in the mouth.
  • Avoid skipping your meals.
  • Drink plenty of water and increase your fluid intake to stay hydrated. Always sip them.
  • Avoid eating foods that are difficult to digest, spicy, greasy, and have strong smells.
  • Indulge in light snacks like crackers, cereals, breadsticks, and toast.
  • Do not lie down immediately after eating.
  • Consume foods and drinks that are at room temperature.
  • Avoid high fragrances and odors like air fresheners and perfumes that might trigger nausea and vomiting.
  • Get yourself some fresh air to relax.
  • Wear clothes that are loose-fitted and comfortable.
  • Try relaxing by listening to calming music, meditating, or taking a short relaxing walk.

If your nausea and vomiting persist and becomes severe, consult your doctor. Depending upon the severity of your condition, your healthcare provider might prescribe you anti-emetics.

2. Diarrhea:

Diarrhea occurs when there are frequent movements of bowels or stools that may be soft, watery, and loose. It is a common side effect of cancer or its treatment and can also be caused by infections, medications used to treat constipation, and antibiotics. In some cases, excessive diarrhea can cause severe dehydration. Diarrhea may be mild or severe.

Tips to Manage Diarrhea:

  • Drink a lot of mild and clear liquids like water, ginger ale, broths, fruit and vegetable juices, and sports drinks.
  • Avoid eating heavy, greasy, fried, high-fiber foods, raw fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, and spicy foods.
  • Avoid consuming dairy products like milk and cheese. However, buttermilk and yogurt can be consumed
  • Caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks must be avoided.
  • Eat small meals that are not too heavy. Eat around 6 to 8 small meals instead of three large meals.
  • Avoid consuming extremely hot fluids.
  • Keep the area around the anus clean by washing it gently with warm water and a soft cloth.
  • You can use a barrier cream to soothe skin irritation.

If diarrhea persists for a prolonged time, then seek medical attention immediately.

3. Constipation:

Constipation occurs when the moment of the stools or bowel becomes less frequent. In constipation, the stools become dry, hard, and difficult to pass. A person having constipation might also experience stomach cramps, bloating, and nausea. Chemotherapy, pain medications, dietary choices, not being active, and not hydrating enough are some causes of constipation

Tips to Manage Constipation:

  • Drink plenty of fluids like water, juices, and warm or hot liquids.
  • Avoid consuming foods and beverages that might cause gas, like cabbage, cauliflower, spicy foods, etc.
  • Try to do some mild exercises or walk for some time.
  • Eat fiber-rich food, like whole grains, cereals, and dried fruits

Inform your doctor before consuming high-fiber foods, as they should not be eaten by people having certain types of cancer. If constipation persists, seek medical help.

4. Hair loss:

Hair loss is a commonly occurring side effect of cancer treatment. Cancer treatment aims to attack cancer cells and destroy them. However, unfortunately, the other healthy growing cells also get attacked during the treatment process, including cells in the hair roots. Hair loss can occur all over the body and not only scalp.

Tips to Manage hair loss:

  • Open up about how you feel to a counselor, doctor, family member, or friend.
  • Connect with people going through the same and learn how they manage it.
  • Stay strong and prepare yourself for hair loss, as it can cause immense stress because losing hair is not easy. You may also choose to shave your head or cut your hair short before starting the treatment.
  • If you feel insecure or uncomfortable, you may cover your head with scarves and caps. You may also invest in wigs.
  • Your scalp becomes sensitive during the treatment, so it is necessary to protect it from the sun by covering your head.
  • You may also use a cooling cap to prevent hair loss. However, cooling caps might cause side effects like headaches, neck pain, and chills.
  • Use gentle haircare products.
  • Avoid using hair styling equipment like straighteners, curlers, and dryers.
  • Comb your hair gently using a soft baby brush.
  • Oil or moisturize when your scalp feels dry or flaky.
  • Be patient; once the treatment is over, the hair may grow back slowly. However, newly grown hair may be slightly different in texture, color, thicker or fine, or new in color than before treatment.

5. Dry mouth or Xerostomia:

Cracked lips, sticky feeling in the mouth, and burning sensation in the mouth or tongue are some symptoms of dry mouth or Xerostomia. Radiation therapy for head and neck cancers and chemotherapy can cause dry mouth. A dry mouth can cause gum diseases, tooth decay, and infections if left untreated.

Tips to Manage Dry mouth or Xerostomia:

  • Rinse your mouth frequently (probably every two hours) with water or the solution prescribed by your doctor.
  • Take small bites of your food and chew it properly.
  • Drink plenty of liquids as this will aid in thinning of the mucus.
  • Keep sipping on water throughout the day.
  • Have liquids while eating to moisten your food and for easy swallowing
  • Eat sugarless hard candies or chewing gums. You can also have ice chips.
  • Avoid eating hot and spicy foods.
  • Add gravies or sauces to moisten the food.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine, alcoholic beverages like beer and wine, carbonated drinks, and tobacco, as they may worsen your dry mouth.
  • Avoid consuming citrus-rich foods like oranges, tomatoes, and grapefruits.
  • Avoid eating dry, hard, and coarse foods.
  • Avoid consumption of sugary foods as they can cause tooth decay.
  • Brush twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush. It is better if you brush your teeth after every meal to prevent tooth decay.
  • Avoid using mouthwashes containing alcohol.
  • Apply a lip balm or chapstick to moisturize your lips.

6. Mouth Sores (Mucositis):

Tiny cuts, ulcers and tender gums are symptoms of mouth sores, that are usually caused as a side effect of chemotherapy or radiation therapy for head and neck cancers.

Tips to manage mouth sores:

  • Eat foods that are soft and easy to chew.
  • You can puree the food.
  • Drink using a straw to aid you in swallowing the liquid without hurting the painful parts.
  • Suck on ice chips or popsicles.
  • Eat food that is of room temperature or cold.
  • Avoid consuming citrus rich foods, spicy foods, curries, pickles, salty foods, raw vegetables and sauces.
  • Do not eat hard and crunchy foods.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Rinse your mouth couple of times a day.
  • Avoid using mouthwashes containing alcohol.

7. Pain:

Cancer and its treatment side effects can both cause pain. The pain might be acute or severe and constant.

Tips to manage pain:

  • Try relaxation techniques to reduce stress and manage pain.
  • You can try breathing and meditation to ease and cope with the pain.
  • You can use techniques like distraction and visual imagery to reduce pain.
  • Apply hot and cold compresses like heating pads.
  • You can also get complimentary therapies like massage, hypnosis, biofeedback, physical therapy, nutritional therapy, and occupational therapy from a specialist.
  • You can also consult your doctor to prescribe you medications for pain relief.

8. Sleep problems (Insomnia):

Many patients undergoing cancer treatment have trouble sleeping. This condition is called insomnia.

Tips to manage sleep problems/ insomnia:

  • Identify the cause behind not being able to sleep.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your sleeping issues.
  • Practice relaxation techniques like listening to soothing music, mental imagery, deep breathing, or reading a book.
  • Avoid eating heavy meals before going to bed.
  • Avoid napping during the day, as it will hinder your sleep at night.
  • Avoid smoking and consuming caffeine at least 6 to 8 hours before bedtime.
  • Consume warm drinks like decaf tea or milk before going to bed.
  • Have a proper sleep schedule and follow it every day.
  • Avoid using phones and watching tv in bed.
  • You can exercise regularly. However, do not exercise right before your time to sleep.
  • If you are a caregiver, then keep the lights off, and maintain a quiet environment in the patient’s room. Give the patient a gentle foot massage before they sleep.

9. Loss of appetite:

The lack of urge to eat anything is called as loss of appetite. Nausea and vomiting might make you lose your appetite. It is a common side effect of cancer and its treatment.

Tips to manage the loss of appetite:

  • Eat about 5 or 7 small meals throughout the day, instead of three large meals.
  • Try munching on healthy snacks like granola bars, nuts, dried fruits, and crackers.
  • Avoid consuming liquids with meals or take small sips only while eating.
  • Consume more proteins like eggs, fish, peanut butter, yogurt, and nuts.
  • Do not eat sugar-based foods or junk foods like chips and sodas.
  • Consume nutritious drinks like milkshakes and smoothies
  • Do mild exercises or simple walking an hour before you eat.

10. Infertility issues:

Infertility is usually a major cause of concern in men and women undergoing cancer treatment. chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery are some treatments that can cause infertility.

Tips to manage infertility issues:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about any fertility concerns you have before starting your cancer treatment.
  • You can seek help from a counsellor if you have concerns about not being able to have biological children.
  • If you are a man, the you can opt for sperm collection and banking before treatment.
  • If you are a woman, there is a possibility that you might conceive naturally.
  • If you are a woman, then you can go for cryopreservation (freezing embryos or eggs).

Lifestyle Management

Our lifestyle plays an important role in determining our overall quality of life. While a healthy lifestyle might look like a task, staying fit and healthy in the long run is essential. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is difficult as it requires many modifications like dietary changes, exercising, good hygiene, a proper eating and sleeping schedule, etc. However, these changes are necessary to help stay healthy, especially when one has a disease like heart conditions, high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes or cancer.

Lifestyle management becomes even more important when the person has had cancer. Once the cancer treatment ends, it is lifestyle modifications that the patient needs the most. Management of lifestyle after cancer is essential for the patient's speedy recovery, and mental well-being, preventing the risk of cancer reoccurrence and achieving improved overall quality of life for a long time.

The lifestyle management strategies for cancer survivors are no different from those looking to live healthy lives. The lifestyle management strategies that are to be followed by cancer survivors to take care of themselves after the cancer treatment ends include:

1. Exercising Regularly:

While the idea of recovering from cancer and its treatment is to take ample rest to ensure that the patient stays healthy is still prominent, it is not completely true. Physical activity is extremely important for the better recovery of the patient. Being physically active can help manage certain treatment-related side effects, improve mental health, improve sleep, prevent the risk of redeveloping cancer, better the quality of life and improve recovery.

The amount of physical activity and the time dedicated to it may vary from person to person. The body's ability to bear the physical activity depends on the type of cancer, its stage, side effects, and overall patient health. It is essential to consult the doctor before starting an exercise regime as the doctor knows better about what is best for the patient. The doctor might also suggest a fitness trainer or a physical therapist depending on the current patient's health status.

How to start:

  • To reach somewhere, you will have to start somewhere. Start slow and small. A simple morning walk for 15 to 20 minutes is good, to begin with. This regime can be built slowly.
  • It is essential not to wear the body out. Exercise but know the body's limit. Don't push the body beyond its capacity, especially during treatment.
  • Skip exercising if there is consistent dizziness and weakness.
  • Find someone who can support you while you work out. It may be a friend, a therapist, or a family member.
  • Do not start with any exercise regime without the doctor's knowledge.

Exercises that can be done:

  • Set a goal
  • As a beginner, brisk walking for 30 minutes a day will do.
  • Gradually exercises that improve muscle and bone strength can be incorporated.
  • Doing warm-up exercises for a few minutes before starting the workout is essential.
  • Strength training and resistance training can be practiced after consulting a doctor.
  • Aerobics, stretching, yoga, or brisk walking are good options.
  • Apart from exercising, indulge in minor household chores like cleaning, mopping, gardening, taking your pet for a walk, or taking the stairs.
  • It is essential to eat well and stay hydrated.

2. A healthy, well-balanced diet

A healthy diet is essential to ensure you get all the nutrients required for the body to heal. A healthy diet is necessary to deal with and manage the treatment's side effects, recover from them quickly, feel healthy and prevent the risk of cancer reoccurrence. In certain instances, the doctor might also prescribe a dietician to the patient.

What to eat:

  • Eat a meal packed with vegetables. Ensure to include vegetables in every meal. Vegetable salads, vegetable wraps, veg soups, and cooked vegetables are some options.
  • Include foods that are rich in fiber. Whole grains, seeds, and nuts are some options of fiber-rich food to choose from.
  • Eating fruits is essential to provide the body with vitamins and other nutrients.
  • Healthy fats like omega-3- fatty acids are to be taken every day. Foods rich n omega-3-fatty acids include fish, flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, or tofu.
  • Protein is equally essential for better healing. Eggs, nuts, chicken, and almonds can be taken daily to ensure that the daily protein intake is checked.
  • Probiotics like yogurt, sauerkraut, buttermilk, and cottage cheese are also important in the diet.
    Foods to be avoided:
  • High-calorie foods like sodas, candies, sweets, and ice creams should be avoided.
  • Processed foods are a complete no.
  • Processed meats are to be avoided.
  • Consumption of refined foods like white sugar, white breads, biscuits, and cookies is to be avoided.

3. Getting enough sleep

Sleeping for a minimum of 7 to 8 hours a day is essential for cancer patients or survivors and everyone. Good sleep improves physical and mental health and mood and makes a person feel fresh and energetic throughout the day.

Tips to improve sleep:

  • Set a sleep and wake-up schedule and try to follow it consistently.
  • Keep the bedroom dark and maintain silence and a cool temperature.
  • Avoid using laptops, computers, and phones at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. Avoid screen time while in bed.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine or other stimulants that will hinder your sleeping schedule.

4. Stress management

The mere thought of being diagnosed with cancer is overwhelming and terrifying, let alone experiencing it. The journey of cancer, from its diagnosis and treatment to follow-up care, can take a huge toll on the patient's mental health. The thought of cancer reoccurrence can also cause immense stress and anxiety. Hence it is essential to manage stress in people with cancer

How to manage stress?

  • Seek help from a therapist or counselor.
  • Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and guided imagery.
  • Talk about how you feel with your family and friends.
  • Sleep well. A minimum of 7- 8 hours of sleep is essential for better mental health.
  • Indulge yourself in activities you enjoy.
  • Read books, listen to motivational podcasts, and watch motivational videos as it helps in feel better.

5. Avoid the risk factors that can cause cancer reoccurrence

Certain risk factors are responsible for the development of cancer in a person. It is important to know these factors and avoid them after treatment.

Risk factors to avoid:

  • Smoking is a major risk factor for developing cancer, and it not only puts the life of the person doing it at risk but also of the people subjected to its smoke in the form of
    second-hand smoking. Staying away from smoking and tobacco consumption in any form is essential to prevent the reoccurrence of cancer.
  • Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing certain types of cancer and its reoccurrence. Alcohol might also interact with certain drugs and cause side effects.
  • Protection from the sun. Appropriate measures to protect the skin from harmful sun rays are important to prevent skin cancer development. Avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., wearing sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 and above, covering sun-exposed areas, using hats and umbrellas, and avoiding the use of tanning beds are some preventive measures that can help in preventing cancer development risk due to sun exposure.

6. Follow-up Care:

Follow-up care is essential once the treatment ends. Regular health checkups will ensure that the patient is being checked for any cancer reoccurrence or development of secondary cancer. If there is any cancer recurrence or the development of a new one, regular follow-ups will help in early detection and treatment. Follow-up care is also important as it aids the healthcare team in managing long-term side effects better and monitoring overall patient health.

Dietary Management

Diet plays an important role in defining the overall health of a person. A healthy balanced diet is essential as food has the ability of keeping various diseases at bay including cancer and also improving the health of a person. The food consumed today determines how a person’s health will be in the long run. Where food has the ability to prevent diseases, there are certain foods that ca lead to downfall of health in people.

Foods that prevent the risk of developing cancer:

  1. Apples: Apples are a good source of dietary fibre and phytochemicals such flavonoids and triterpenoids. Apples are beneficial in reducing the incidence of mouth, breast, and colorectal cancers. The phytochemicals found in apples can slow the growth of cancer cells and promote their self-destruction.
  2. Garlic: A ubiquitous element in most recipes is garlic. This cancer-preventive meal reduces the incidence of colon, liver, prostate, and stomach cancers. Before cooking, let the chopped or crushed garlic sit for about 10 minutes to increase the production of bioactive compounds. The active ingredients of garlic increase the enzymes that destroy cancer cells. Additionally, it stops the enzymes from turning on the cancer-causing substances.
  3. Whole grains: Since whole grains offer more nutrients than refined grains, they are favored. Refined grains don’t contain germ and bran. Whole grains include phytic acid, which helps to prevent cell damage and lowers the risk of cancer. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity of cells is increased by phenolic acids and lignans. Whole grains provide support to the healthy bacteria in the colon.
  4. Tomatoes: They are a rich source of Lycopene, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Tomatoes lower the risk of esophageal, lung, stomach, and prostate cancer. Lycopene from tomatoes is better absorbed when tomatoes are cooked. The lycopene present in tomatoes can influence the male hormones and reduce the risk of cancer development. Vitamin Cis a powerful antioxidant that guards the cells from oxidative damage.
  5. Carrots: They are a rich source of vitamins and phytochemicals. Beta- carotene, a carotenoid present in carrots provides support to the functioning of the immune system and aids in lowering the risk of cancers of breast, prostate, stomach and colorectum.
  6. Walnuts: It contains pedunculagin, which upon consumption gets metabolized into urolithins. Urolithins prevents the risk of developing breast cancer.
  7. Spinach: It is rich source of dietary fibre, vitamin C, folate, flavanols and carotenoids (lutein, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin). The dietary fibre in spinach aids in weight loss. Excessive body weight is associated with the risk of developing about 13 cancers. Spinach can prevent the risk of developing cancers of colorectum, breast, bladder and lung.
  8. Grapes: It is a rich source of various phytochemicals. Resveratrol present in grapes is a strong antioxidant. Purple and red grapes are better anti-cancer when foods compared to green grapes as they contain more resveratrol. Grapes can help lower the risk of developing the risk of cancers of skin, breast, liver and prostate.
  9. Tea: Green and black tea consists of the active compound epigallocatechin-3 gallate, which makes them anti-cancer. Epigallocatechin-3 gallate acts against urokinase, which is essential for cancer growth. Consuming tea can lower the risk of development of skin cancer, bladder cancer, liver cancer and breast cancer.
  10. Flaxseed: It is rich in vitamin E, phenolic acids and dietary fibre. Flaxseeds can help in decreasing the risk of developing breast cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer.

Food to include in cancer diet:

  1. Phytochemicals: Phytochemicals are naturally existing compounds responsible for giving plants colour, flavour, and aroma and protecting them against infections. Phytochemicals also work as anti-cancer foods. Phytochemicals stimulate the immune system, regulate hormones, prevent DNA damage and inflammation, lower oxidative stress, and slow down the rate of Cancer growth. Examples of phytochemicals include:
    • Carotenoids are found in foods like carrots, broccoli, oranges, leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, and watermelon.
    • Indoles and glucosinolates are found in foods like broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower.
    • Inositol is found in foods like vegetables and fruits.
    • Flavonoids are found in foods like onions, apples, soybeans, oranges, and lemons.
    • Polyphenols are found in foods that include grapes, green tea, berries, apples, whole grains, and citrus-rich fruits.
    • Isoflavones, soya beans, and its products are rich in isoflavones
  2. Antioxidants: These chemicals work by interacting with and neutralizing the free radicals. Free radicals in high concentrations are potent enough to harm the body’s cells. Antioxidants are otherwise also called “free radical scavengers.” Foods like strawberries, tomatoes, blueberries, carrots, broccoli, and spinach are rich in antioxidants and must be included in the daily diet to prevent cancer.
  3. Proteins: Weight loss can occur during cancer and its treatment. Apart from that, eating problems might also arise. Usually, muscle is lost during cancer and not fat. Proteins help the tissues in the body to repair themselves, aid in keeping the immune system healthy and help build and maintain the muscles. Plant-based proteins like lentils, soy, and beans and animal-based proteins like chicken, eggs, and fish are some good protein sources.
  4. Fats: They provide the body with energy after cancer treatment. Fats are also essential for insulating the body tissues and transporting certain types of vitamins in the blood. Almond butter, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, olive oil, soy products, salmon, and tuna are some good sources of healthy fats.
  5. Omega-3 fatty acids: They have anti-cancer properties. Omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammatory mediators and reduce inflammation. Flax seeds, salmon, mackerel, and walnuts are some good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
  6. Carbohydrates: They are the major sources of energy in the body. Whole grains, peas, beans, potatoes, and rice are some good sources of carbohydrates.
  7. Fibers: Foods containing fiber are essential in the diet as it helps in lowering cholesterol, reduce the overall intake of calories, and help maintain a healthy weight. It also reduces the risk of developing cancers like colorectal cancer. Barley,


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