Do What You Can to Ease Side Effects of Treatment and Symptoms of Lung Cancer
Anemia (low red blood cell levels)
Throughout your treatment, your doctor will test your blood. One thing he or she is checking is your red blood cell count. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Any of these things can reduce your red blood cell count: the cancer itself, a small amount of blood loss, or treatment with chemotherapy or radiation. If your body does not have this oxygen, you may feel tired.
If your doctor tells you that you have anemia, take these actions to feel better:
Anxiety and depression
Many people feel blue, anxious, or distressed after being told they have cancer. These feelings may continue or come back throughout treatment.
Taking these actions may ease your mental stress:
People who eat well during cancer treatment maintain their strength better, are more active, and are better able to lower their chance of infection. When you're being treated for cancer, a diet high in calories and protein is best. The problem is that side effects of treatment can change or reduce your appetite. Chemotherapy can make you nauseated, change the way food tastes, or make you too tired to want to eat. Radiation can change the way food tastes to you, make it hard for you to swallow, or reduce your appetite.
Ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian if you are having trouble maintaining your desire to eat. Also, try these tips to stimulate your desire to eat:
If you can, eat foods high in protein several times a day. These foods include milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, eggs, beans, peanut butter, and nuts. Protein helps build and repair tissue, and cancer treatments cause you to use more protein than usual.
If you can, eat high-calorie foods to help you maintain your weight, such as margarine or butter, sugar, honey, jams, jellies, cream cheese, dried fruit, gravies or sauces, mayonnaise, and salad dressing.
Get plenty of fluids to help control your body temperature and improve bowel function. In addition to water, fruit juices, and other liquids, try these foods to increase fluids: gelatin, pudding, soups, Popsicles, and ice cream.
It's important to remember that your body needs energy to heal itself, so maintaining your weight is one way to know if you are giving your body the energy it needs.
Bloating and swelling
Some chemotherapy drugs cause your body to retain water. This water retention will go away when your treatment ends.
Here's what you can do for relief:
Keep in mind that bloating and swelling may make it look as if you are maintaining a healthy weight even if you are malnourished. If you're bloated, assess your eating habits and, if necessary, see your doctor or follow the tips under Appetite loss.
Breathing problems--shortness of breath (dyspnea) and coughing
These things may cause shortness of breath: a tumor in your lung or treatment for lung cancer, including surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. Feeling short of breath may make you feel anxious, which can make breathing problems worse. When you are anxious, you take fewer deep breaths.
Talk with your doctor or nurse about what can help. Also try these tips:
Avoid things that make your breathing worse, such as high humidity, cold air, pollen, and tobacco smoke.
Constipation is difficult or infrequent bowel movements. It can range from mildly uncomfortable to painful. Taking pain medications can lead to constipation, so it's wise to take these preventive actions. These same steps will give you relief if you are already constipated:
Eat foods high in fiber, such as cereals, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
A tumor in the lung or anything that irritates the lung may cause coughing. If you have a persistent cough, it may increase pain, prevent adequate rest, and promote fatigue. Talk with your doctor about these options for relief:
Many drugs can cause bowel changes. Diarrhea is loose or frequent bowel movements, or both. It may lead to dehydration if you don't take these precautions:
Eat low-residue, low-fiber foods, such as those included in the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast).
Hair loss (alopecia)
Losing your hair can be upsetting because baldness is a visible reminder that you are being treated for cancer. Keep in mind that your hair will probably grow back after treatment. Try these coping tips:
Think about getting a wig, hat, or scarf before your hair loss starts. That way, you can get a wig that matches your hair.
Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
Insomnia can be caused by anxiety, depression, or your cancer treatment. Taking steroids, in particular, may cause insomnia. Use these tips to improve your rest:
Mouth sores (mucositis)
Mouth sores may develop after some chemotherapies or after radiation to the head or neck area. Mouth sores may hurt and make eating an unpleasant experience.
To help prevent mouth sores, take these actions:
To help ease the pain, take these actions:
Be sure to continue getting proper nutrition. If you cannot eat, talk with your doctor or nurse about liquid food supplements that may give you the nutrition you need. Also, call your doctor or nurse if your temperature reaches 100.5 degrees or higher because this is a sign of infection.
Nausea or vomiting
Nausea or vomiting as a result of chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer may range from barely noticeable to severe.
It may help you to understand the different types of nausea:
Anticipatory nausea and vomiting are learned from previous experiences with vomiting. As you prepare for the next dose of chemotherapy, you may anticipate that nausea and vomiting will occur as it did previously, which triggers the actual reflex.
To prevent nausea, take these actions:
Ask your doctor about getting a prescription medicine to control nausea and vomiting. Then, make sure you take it as directed. If you are vomiting and cannot take your medicine, call your doctor or nurse.
To help ease nausea or vomiting if you have it, try these tips:
Try eating foods and drinking beverages that were easy to take or made you feel better when you had the flu, morning sickness, or were nauseated from stress. These might be bland foods, sour candy, pickles, dry crackers, ginger ale, flat soda, or others.
Neutropenia (low white blood cell levels)
Throughout your treatment, your doctor will test your blood. One thing he or she is checking is your white blood cell count. Many chemotherapies can cause low white blood cell counts, or they can be caused by the cancer itself. Without enough white blood cells, your body may not be able to fight infection. If your doctor tells you that your white blood cell count is low, take these actions to stay healthy:
Numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in your hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)
If you have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hands and feet, you may have nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy. Some chemotherapies are known to cause this, for instance Taxol (paclitaxel). Other signs of this problem are ringing in your ears or feeling hot or cold. If you have symptoms such as these, take these precautions to protect yourself:
You may have pain from the tumor pressing on organs. Or you may have pain as a result of treatment, such as from cuts made during surgery. Try these tips to ease pain:
Use heat, cold, relaxation techniques (such as yoga or meditation), or guided imagery exercises. Ask your doctor or nurse where you can learn more about these.
Sexuality issues may include reduced libido (interest in and ability to have sex) and infertility. Treatments can contribute to this, as well as the general psychological problems associated with cancer.
Taking these actions may help you cope with these changes:
Radiation treatment can cause dry or red skin in the area being treated. You may also have nail changes, such as splitting or slower growth. Some targeted therapy drugs may also cause skin changes such as rashes. If you have skin changes, take these steps to protect yourself:
Ask your doctor or nurse what kind of lotion you can use to moisturize and soothe your skin. Don't use any lotion, soap, deodorant, sunblock, perfume, cosmetics, or powder on your skin within two hours after radiation.
Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
When your doctor tests your blood throughout your treatment, one thing he or she will check is your level of platelets. Reduced platelets can be a side effect of chemotherapy. Without enough platelets, your blood may have difficulty clotting. If your doctor tells you that your platelet count is low, take these actions to avoid causing injuries that could lead to uncontrolled bleeding:
Tiredness is a very common symptom and side effect from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. You may feel only slightly tired, or you may suffer from extreme fatigue. Fatigue can last four to six weeks after treatment ends.
Taking these actions may help increase your energy level:
Trouble thinking and remembering (chemo brain)
You may have mild problems with concentration and memory during and after chemotherapy. Fatigue can aggravate the problem. Taking these actions may help:
For More Information
For more information on how to quit smoking or schedule lung cancer screenings, contact Nancy Sayegh-Rooney, R.N., Pulmonary Nurse Navigator at Richmond University Medical Center, 718-818-2391.
Free screenings are available for at-risk individuals, please call for additional information.