Monitoring symptoms and side effects

Cancer itself can cause a range of symptoms, and cancer treatments often cause side effects.

You can call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or visit your local Cancer Council website to find out more about common issues experienced by people with cancer. However, it’s always important to let your treatment team know if symptoms and side effects become difficult to manage – they will often be able to offer you medicines and other treatments that can help.

The treatment team will let you know which side effects need to be closely monitored and when you need to contact them. Some issues that require urgent medical attention include:

  • a temperature of 38°C or above
  • persistent or severe nausea or vomiting
  • redness or swelling around the site of an injection
  • chills with shaking or shivering
  • severe abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhoea
  • unusual bleeding (e.g. nose bleeding for over 30 minutes)
  • any serious unexpected side effects or sudden deterioration in the person’s health.

Common symptoms and side effects include:


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


Pain

  • 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


Breathlessness

  • 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. You can listen to our relaxation and meditation audio tracks now. They are also available on CD from Cancer Council 13 11 20.
  • Talk to the treatment team about breathing exercises, equipment and treatments to manage breathlessness.

Fatigue

  • 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


This information was last reviewed in September 2017
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