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cancer side effects at home

Managing the side effects of Cancer treatments

The suitability of cancer treatments tend to vary according to the doctor’s assessment of the cancer, its progression, and takes into account the patient’s age, medical history and lifestyle habits.

Understanding the treatment plan of your loved one gives you a clearer understanding of the success rate, and prepares you for the potential side effects at home between treatments.

Tests and doctor visits are usually scheduled between treatment sessions to monitor the progress of the treatment plan and manage side effects.

Generally, cancer treatments in Singapore include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation Therapy
  •  Targeted Therapy
  • Immunotherapy

Why is My Loved One Experiencing These Side Effects? Will they go away?

Treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy may destroy healthy, non-cancerous cells in the process of killing cancerous ones, which are experienced in the form of the side effects.

Most side effects tend to go away gradually once the treatment has been completed. You may support your loved one undergoing cancer treatment by monitoring potential side effects and providing feedback to the doctor on the next visit. This helps to minimize discomfort from the treatments as much as possible, and allow the doctors to assess the cancer treatment.

Some of these side effects are:

Nausea and vomiting

Anti-nausea and anti vomiting medicine can help to curb the effects. Although this is usually life-threatening, frequent and prolonged nausea can lead to dehydration.

Seek medical attention promptly if your loved one has problems keeping food and fluids down, or is unable to take the medications provided to curb this symptom.

Fatigue

Lifestyle and dietary changes will be needed to manage the fatigue resulting from the cancer treatments. This may come in the form of decreasing workload, helping out with chores at home, providing a nutritious diet and ensuring that your loved one has adequate rest and sleep. In some cases, exercise may also be allowed if the doctor has given the green light to do so.

Pain

Most cancer pain can be well-managed through medications, and should not develop or become worse if taken as prescribed. Ensure your loved one takes them accordingly, and if it worsens or becomes unbearable, seek medical attention promptly.

Fertility/sexuality

As some cancer treatments can affect one’s ability to have children, you and your loved one may want to consult a doctor about family planning concerns prior to starting treatment. Your doctor can also advise accordingly on whether it is safe to continue with sexual intercourse, and whether any precautions should be taken, although there is no medical reason to do so in most cases.

An open talk about this topic with your loved one will also help him or her to feel supported during this period.

Appetite loss

Managing other side effects such as nausea, vomiting, pain and fatigue can help to improve appetite. Encourage your loved one to eat small, nutritious meals in this case.

You may also wish to consult a dietician on meal planning and ask for recommended nutritional supplements, if any.

Hair Loss

A shorter hairstyle, hats, wigs or scarves can assist your loved one to gradually accept the temporary hair loss.

Dryness of mouth

There are medications available to boost saliva production. At home, encourage your loved one to maintain good oral hygiene. A mouth rinse consisting of 1 teaspoon of salt with 1 teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of warm water, especially after meals, can help to prevent infections.

Sipping on water also helps your loved one to stay hydrated. Do avoid drinks like alcohol and coffee that can cause dehydration.

Constipation

Staying hydrated, along with consuming fibre rich foods help to manage constipation, and these include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, raisins and prunes. A high-fibre diet, however, may not be suitable for someone who has undergone bowel surgery, or has a tumour that narrows the bowel.

If it is possible, encourage your loved one to engage in some light exercises as this can help to encourage healthier bowel movements.

Laxatives and stool softeners should not be used unless the doctor has given the clearance to do so.

Mental/Emotional side effects

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Remind your loved one that he/she is not alone in this journey

Your loved one going through cancer treatment may also be anxious during this period due to the uncertainty of what to expect during and after the cancer treatment. He/she may also feel uncomfortable about relying on you and others to perform tasks and bear the medical costs.

One way to support your loved one in this aspect is to invite him to share his/her thoughts by writing about it or talking about it, or doing activities that he/she enjoys for a morale boost.

The Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) also offers group support to remind your loved one that he/she is not alone in their journey.

When should I call the doctor regarding the side effects? What’s an emergency?

If you notice the following signs of infection after the cancer treatment, seek medical attention immediately:

  • Fever 38 degree celcius and higher
  •  Shaking chills
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Severe headache with a stiff neck

Other serious side effects of cancer treatments that require medical attention are:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is a potentially life-threatening blood clot
  • Pulmonary embolism (PE), which is a blood clot in the lung and a medical emergency
  • Tumor lysis syndrome (TLS), which is a life threatening vital organ injury

When in doubt, consult a doctor for advice promptly.

While juggling between caring for your loved one and maintaining your existing lifestyle can be a challenge, Jaga-Me is here to support you with home-based nursing care to support the recovery between treatments comfortably at home. Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you and your loved one during the cancer treatment.

We recommend reading Living with Stage 3A: Surviving Breast Cancer.

References:

1.     Singapore Cancer Society (2016). Coping with the Side Effects. Retrieved from https://www.singaporecancersociety.org.sg/get-help/cancer-patient/cancer-and-me/coping-with-the-side-eff-ects.html

2.      American Society of Clinical Oncology (2018, March). Fear of Treatment-Related Side Effects. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/managing-emotions/fear-treatment-related-side-effects

3.      American Society of Clinical Oncology (2018, July). When to Call the Doctor During Cancer Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/when-call-doctor-during-cancer-treatment

Jaga-Me: Your Trusted Medical Home Care Professional
At Jaga-Me, we believe that healthcare should be a social good – it is a basic human need, and should be available to as many people as possible. We aim to deliver the highest quality care through innovation and a commitment to building meaningful relationships.

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If you are looking for medical products and supplies, feel free to check out JagaStore to find out more.

Jaga-Me: Your Trusted Medical Home Care Professional

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