Managing common symptoms and side effects

Here we look at ways to manage common symptoms and side effects of cancer, from the carer’s perspective.

Learn more about managing these common symptoms and side effects:

Listen to podcasts on Cancer Affects the Carer Too and How to Help Someone with Cancer


  • Encourage the person to take medicine as prescribed to keep on top of the pain, and contact your treatment team if the pain is hard to manage. It may take time to find the right pain medicine.
  • Use a pain scale to help you understand the intensity of the pain and the need for extra doses of pain medicine.
  • Keep a diary of pain levels and symptoms, and let the treatment team know how the medicine is working.
  • Try relieving pain and discomfort with hot water bottles or heat packs (but be sure to check the temperature first), ice packs or gentle massage.
  • Call Cancer Council 13 11 20, see Overcoming Cancer Pain, or download a booklet from this page.

Nausea and loss of appetite

  • Offer the person’s favourite or well-tolerated foods often. You usually don’t have to follow a strict diet during cancer treatment, though you should follow the advice of your health professionals.
  • Provide nutritious snacks throughout the day.
  • Make meals a time when you can sit together and talk.
  • If the person you care for is losing weight or feels too nauseous to eat, talk to your doctor, dietitian or pharmacist about dietary supplements.
  • Encourage the person you are caring for to ask their doctor for different anti-nausea medicines until they find one that works well for them.

Listen to a podcast on Appetite Loss and Nausea


  • Use a fan to direct a cool stream of air across the person’s face.
  • Set up a pillow on a table so the person can lean forward with an arm crossed over the pillow – this allows their breathing muscles to relax.
  • Maintain a calm atmosphere where possible as anxiety can make breathlessness worse.
  • Play a relaxation recording to help the person control anxiety that contributes to breathlessness. Your local Cancer Council may have a free relaxation recording on its website or available as a CD. Or listen to this meditation audio track now.
  • Talk to the treatment team about breathing exercises, equipment and treatments to manage breathlessness.


  • Help the person to work out small, manageable goals for the day, and encourage them to rest before they become too tired.
  • Encourage the person to say no to things they really don’t feel like doing.
  • Find ways for the person to do some gentle physical activity every day – research shows that exercise can reduce fatigue. Talk to the treatment team about what sort of exercise would be suitable. Even a walk around the garden can boost energy levels, and the person may feel more motivated if you offer to go with them.
  • Establish a regular routine before bed and set up a calm sleeping environment. Ensure the room is dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature. Soothing music helps some people drift off.

Listen to a podcast on Managing Cancer Fatigue

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Cancer and cancer treatments may cause a range of side effects. They vary depending on the treatments you were given.

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