Although your treatment has ended, you are still coping with how it affects your body. It can take time to get over the effects of cancer treatment. Each person's schedule is different. You may wonder how your body should feel during this time and what may be a sign that cancer is coming back. This section talks about some of the problems that can occur when treatment is over.
What you experience may be related to the type of cancer you had and the treatment you received. It is also very important to remember that no two people are alike, so you may experience changes that are very different from someone else's, even if they had the same type of cancer and received the same treatment.
"I can walk and keep busy," said one testicular cancer survivor, "but it gets very tiring. If I sit in a chair and really want to read or watch something, I'm gone in about 30 seconds, and it is a deep sleep."
Some cancer survivors report that they still feel tired or worn out after treatment is over. In fact, fatigue is one of the most common complaints during the first year after treatment.
Rest or sleep does not "cure" the type of fatigue you may have after cancer treatment, and doctors do not know its exact cause(s). The causes of fatigue are different for people who are receiving treatment than they are for those who have completed treatment:
How long will fatigue last? There is no "normal" pattern. For some, fatigue gets better over time. Others, such as those who have had bone marrow transplants, may have less energy for years after their final treatment.
Some people feel very frustrated when fatigue lasts longer than they think it should and gets in the way of their normal routine. They also may worry that their friends, family, and coworkers will get upset with them if they complain of fatigue often.
Talk to your doctor about what may be causing your fatigue and what can be done about it. Ask about:
How do you fight fatigue? Here are some ideas that have helped others:
You may have pain after treatment. In some cases, it is caused by the treatment itself.
Types of pain you may feel following cancer treatment include:
You deserve to get relief from your pain, and your doctor or nurse can help you. Wanting to control pain is not a sign of weakness. It is a way to help you feel better and stay active.
If you are older, you may not know whether your pain is because of cancer or because of other health problems, such as arthritis. You might not think to mention it to either your oncologist or your other doctors, but you should do so. If you are in pain, tell your oncologist or another doctor.
With your help, your doctor can assess how severe your pain is. Then, he or she might suggest one or more of the following approaches. These approaches have helped others recovering from cancer and may help you.
Note: Health insurance does not always cover these approaches. Find out whether your policy covers the approaches your doctor recommends.
Here are some tips to help you describe your pain to your doctor:
Lymphedema is a swelling of a part of the body, usually an arm or leg, that is caused by the buildup of lymph fluid. It can be caused by cancer or the treatment of cancer. There are many different types of lymphedema. Some types happen right after surgery, are mild, and don't last long. Other types can occur months or years after cancer treatment and can be quite painful. Lymphedema can also develop after an insect bite, minor injury, or burn.
People who are at risk for lymphedema are those who have had:
Your doctor or nurse may be able to help you find ways to prevent and relieve lymphedema. Ask about:
Other cancer survivors have found these tips helpful:
Research shows that many people who have been treated for cancer develop problems with their mouth and teeth.
Radiation to the head and neck can cause problems with your teeth and gums; the soft, moist lining of your mouth; glands that make saliva (spit); and jawbones.
This can cause:
If you were treated with certain types of chemotherapy, you can also have many of the same problems.
Some problems go away after treatment. Others last a long time, while some may never go away. Some problems may develop months or years after your treatment has ended.
If you find that these problems persist after cancer treatment ends, talk to your doctor about:
See your dentist soon after you are done with treatment. Ask about:
Keep your mouth moist.
Keep your mouth clean.
If your mouth is sore, remember to stay away from:
If you have stiffness in your jaw:
Research shows that some cancer survivors who have had certain kinds of chemotherapy or who have taken certain medicines have problems with weight gain, and the added pounds stay on even when treatment ends. Breast cancer survivors who have had certain types of chemotherapy gain weight in a different way: they may lose muscle and gain fat tissue. Unfortunately, the usual ways people try to lose weight may not work for them.
Some cancer survivors have the opposite problem: they have no desire to eat, and they lose weight. Some men say that weight loss is a bigger concern for them than weight gain. It makes them feel less strong and like "less of a man."
Your doctor or nurse can help you deal with weight gain. Ask about:
Here are some tips that have helped others improve their appetites:
Some people who have had radiation therapy or chemotherapy to the head or neck areas may find it hard to eat because they have trouble swallowing. People who have had radiation to the breast or chest or those who have had surgery involving the larynx may also have this problem. As one lung cancer survivor said, "I had a really hard time swallowing and chewing because of the chemo. I just couldn't do it. I lived on soup and soft rice for weeks and weeks."
If you have trouble swallowing:
Bowel and bladder problems are among the most upsetting issues people face after cancer treatment. People often feel ashamed or fearful to go out in public. "Going back to work was the hardest thing," one prostate cancer survivor noted. "I felt so foolish having to go to the bathroom all the time. And it was a complete surprise. My doctor never told me I would have this problem."
This loss of control can happen after treatment for bladder, prostate, colon, rectal, ovarian, or other cancers. Your surgery may have left you with no bowel or bladder control at all. Or perhaps you still have some control, but you make lots of sudden trips to the bathroom.
The opposite problem can happen when a medicine you are taking for pain causes constipation.
It is very important to tell your doctor about any changes in your bladder or bowel habits. Ask your doctor or nurse about:
After chemotherapy, some women stop getting their periods every month or stop getting them altogether.
Some cancer treatments can cause changes in women's bodies and reduce the amount of hormones the body makes. These changes can cause your periods to stop, as well as cause other symptoms of menopause.
Over time, some women will start getting their periods again (this is more likely for younger women), but others will not.
Some common signs of menopause are:
See a gynecologist every year. Ask about:
Here are some tips that have helped others deal with menopause symptoms:
If you are having hot flashes, try making a diary of when they happen and what may start them. This may help you find out what to avoid. Otherwise:
You may have changes in your sex life after cancer treatment-many people do. About half of women who have had long-term treatment for breast and reproductive organ cancers and more than half of men treated for prostate cancer report long-term sexual problems. Many cancer survivors say they were not prepared for the changes in their sex lives.
Sexual problems after cancer treatment are often caused by changes to your body-from surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, or by the effects of pain medicine. Sometimes these problems are caused by depression, feelings of guilt about how you got cancer, changes in body image after surgery, and stress between you and your partner.
What types of problems occur? People report four main concerns:
Your doctor may be able to help you deal with these problems, but he or she may not bring up the subject. You may need to "break the ice" yourself. If you think you might have trouble getting started, bring this document with you and show this section to your doctor or nurse.
Often, sexual problems will not get better on their own. To get help with many of these problems, it is important to talk to your doctor. Ask about:
For some survivors, the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment may be made worse by the effects of aging, or by other health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, that you may have had before cancer. Breast cancer survivors who have had surgery may find everyday activities like reaching or stretching painful; health conditions such as arthritis can make these activities even more difficult. Colorectal or prostate cancer survivors may find that the aging process also affects their bowel or bladder control.
It is very important that you tell your doctor about:
Some cancer treatments may cause future health problems. Sometimes these problems don't appear right away; some don't appear until years after treatment.
Ask your doctor:
Source: U. S. National Cancer Institute, Facing Forward Series: Life After Cancer
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215 | Call us toll-free:
(866) 408-DFCI (3324)