Medical Side Effects Information

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Peripheral Neuropathy

by Nessa Coyle, NP, PhD, and Julie K. Silver, MD

Cancer survivors may experience nerve pain, often described as tingling, burning, or numbness. They may also have problems with balance and coordination if the symptoms are in the feet. If the hands are involved, survivors may complain of dropping items or having difficulty buttoning shirts or using a cell phone.

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Hair Loss During Chemotherapy

Believe it or not, hair loss (alopecia) due to chemotherapy is one of the most distressing side effects of chemo treatments. Hair loss happens because the chemotherapy affects all cells in the body, not just the cancer cells. The lining of the mouth, stomach, and the hair follicles are especially sensitive because those cells multiply rapidly just like the cancer cells. The difference is that the normal cells will repair themselves, making these side effects temporary.

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Fighting Fatigue

by Ellen Manzullo MD, FACP

Fatigue is the most common and often most distressing symptom in cancer survivors. Cancer-related fatigue is different from the fatigue we all experience in daily living. Cancer-related fatigue can occur suddenly and can be overwhelming. You may experience weakness over the entire body or lack the energy to perform normal activities of daily living. Some people wake up tired after a normal night of sleep.

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When Night Falls

by Ann M. Berger, PhD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN

Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Do you wake up early in the morning and can’t get back to sleep? Do you have these problems three or more nights each week? If your answer is yes, you may be among the one-third to one-half of all adult cancer survivors who have problems sleeping.

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When Neurologic Complications of Cancer Occur

by Lisa M. DeAngelis, MD

Neurologic complications occur frequently in people with cancer. They can affect the brain, spinal cord, nerves, or muscles, causing weakness, seizures, or confusion. Neurologic complications can be divided into two main groups: those due to metastatic spread of the cancer to nervous system structures (e.g., brain metastases), and those due to indirect effects from cancer or its treatment, such as damage to the peripheral nerves from chemotherapeutic drugs. Neurologic complications are important to address because they can cause disability if untreated, but early diagnosis and effective therapy can reduce their impact on a person’s quality of life.

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Keeping Your Mouth Healthy during Treatment

by Stephen T. Sonis, DMD, DMSC

Oral complications are common in people being treated with chemotherapy or head and neck radiation. Complications may be caused by direct or indirect injury to the tissues of the mouth, jaws, and salivary glands. Chemotherapy may compound damage to the lining of the mouth by reducing your body’s infection-fighting cells, called neutrophils. Moreover, minor dental infections can become a bigger problem when neutrophil numbers are reduced. Fortunately, steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of mouth problems.

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Are You at Risk for Osteoporosis?

by Rena Vassilopoulou-Sellin, MD, and Charles Stava, MHSA

The exact prevalence of osteoporosis among survivors of cancer is not well understood, but bone loss is a relatively common occurrence during cancer treatment. It also may linger for many years, placing cancer survivors at heightened risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition defined by a decrease in bone mass and strength, which results in an increased susceptibility to fractures. The skeletal system is a dynamic organism in which bone is constantly remodeling itself; older bone is resorbed and new bone deposited in its place. Osteoporosis occurs when the degree of bone resorption exceeds that of bone formation.

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Hearing Loss in People Living with Cancer

by Paul Gidley, MD

You’re a survivor. You’ve faced a cancer diagnosis, battled insurance companies, and endured hours of appointments. Now, after staring down the nausea and other common effects of treatment, you may notice that you’re having difficulty hearing. If you find yourself asking your friends to repeat themselves during conversation and think your hearing is not what it used to be, you may be right. Various cancer treatments can contribute to hearing loss in some people. But take heart – trained healthcare professionals can determine the cause of your hearing loss and even help to restore function.

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