Physical effects of emotions and cancer

The physical effects of cancer and cancer treatments may affect your emotions in different ways. People who experience physical symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea and pain, are often more likely to have emotional distress. How long these physical effects last varies from person to person.


Feeling exhausted and lacking energy for day-to-day activities (fatigue), is the most common side effect of cancer treatment. It can be caused by the physical and emotional effects of diagnosis and treatment. Fatigue differs from normal tiredness as it often doesn’t go away with rest or sleep. Fatigue can also be linked to low moods or depression, so it may help to talk to a health professional about available treatments.

Some helpful tips:

  • Plan to do things at the time of day when your tiredness is least severe. Keeping a journal may help you keep track of your ‘good times’.
  • Research shows that gentle exercise reduces tiredness, helps preserve muscle strength and gives a sense of normality.
  • Let your doctors or nurses know if you are having trouble sleeping.
  • Have a short rest during the day. Naps can refresh you without making it hard for you to sleep at night.
  • Try to spend some time outside in the fresh air each day.


People can experience pain from cancer and its treatment. If you are feeling anxious, this can make pain more difficult to handle. If you are in pain, discuss it with your doctor. There are many treatments now available to help relieve pain.

Loss of appetite

You may not feel like eating if you are unwell, stressed or experiencing the physical effects of cancer treatment. You may also lose your appetite if you’re anxious or depressed. This may make you lose weight and strength.

Good nutrition, or giving your body the food it needs to keep working properly, can help you cope better with the effects of cancer and treatments. It can give you more energy, make you feel less tired, and maintain your wellbeing.

Contact Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information and ideas on managing fatigue and cancer pain or finding new ways to improve your nutrition.

Changing body image

Cancer treatment can change the way you feel about yourself (your self-esteem). You may feel less confident about who you are and what you can do. This is common whether your body has changed physically or not.

Give yourself time to adapt. Try to see yourself as a whole person (body, mind and personality) instead of focusing only on the parts of you that have changed.

For practical suggestions about hair loss and other physical changes, call Cancer Council Helpline.

Look Good…Feel Better Program

Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, can sometimes cause side effects such as hair loss and skin irritation. These changes can make you feel self-conscious.

Look Good…Feel Better is a free two-hour program for both men and women to teach them techniques using skin care, hats and wigs to help restore appearance and self-esteem during and after treatment.

Call 1800 650 960 or visit for more information and to book into a workshop.

Sexuality and intimacy changes

Sexuality is about who you are and how you feel as a man or woman. It is the feelings and characteristics that make up your sexual identity. This means different things to different people. This information has been written to be inclusive of all sexual orientations, whether you have a partner, are between partners or have chosen to be single.

Having cancer can affect your sexuality in both physical and emotional ways. The impact of these changes depends on many factors, such as treatment and side effects, the way you and your partner communicate, the way you see your changed body, and your self-confidence. Knowing the potential challenges and addressing them may help you adjust to these changes.

While sexual intercourse may not always be possible during and immediately after treatment, closeness and sharing can still be part of your relationship. If sex is painful, or you have doubts about the safety of sexual activity, check with your doctor. Counselling, either individually or together, can provide ways to discuss cancer and how it affects your relationship with your partner.

Intimacy isn’t all about sex. Sexual intercourse (or penetrative sex) is not the only way of showing love and affection or expressing sexual feelings. Holding, cuddling, kissing and caressing are also important ways of being intimate.

This information was last reviewed in April 2013

This information has been reviewed by: Dr Lisbeth Lane, Senior Clinical Psychologist, University of Wollongong, Wollongong Hospital, NSW; Kim Hobbs, Social Worker, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Megan Best, Palliative Care Physician, Greenwich Hospital, NSW; Deborah Ball, Coordinator of Direct Support Services, Cancer Council SA; Sandy Hutchison, Executive Manager, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council QLD; Jill Adams, RN, Helpline, Cancer Council WA; and Ksenia Savin, Cancer Connect Volunteer and Consumer, QLD.

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Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.