- Cancer Information
- Coping with a diagnosis
- Emotions and cancer
- Common reactions
- Physical side effects and emotions
Physical side effects and emotions
The physical and emotional effects of cancer and cancer treatment can interact with each other. Let your team know if you have any new or ongoing side effects.
|pain and fatigue||Cancer does not always cause pain, but if it does, there are now many treatments available to relieve it. The most common treatment side effect is fatigue, feeling exhausted and lacking energy for day-to-day activities. Fatigue differs from normal tiredness as it often doesn’t go away with rest or sleep. This feeling can also be a symptom of depression.|
|appetite changes||Your appetite might change if you feel unwell, anxious or depressed, or because of the physical effects of cancer treatment. Some people lose their appetite, while others find they eat more. A change in your appetite or weight can make you feel distressed.|
|appearance changes||Cancer treatments can cause changes to your appearance, such as hair loss or loss of a body part. Whether these changes are temporary or permanent, they can change the way you feel about yourself (your self-esteem) and make you feel self-conscious and less confident.|
|sexuality||Certain cancer treatments directly affect the body’s sexual organs or hormone balance. However, any cancer treatment can reduce your interest in sex. You may feel tired and unwell, or you may be too worried to think about sex. You might also feel less confident about your body. A low sex drive (libido) can also be a symptom of depression. Libido often improves after treatment finishes, but for some people the effect is ongoing.|
|fertility||Some cancer treatments affect the reproductive organs, which may lead to temporary or permanent infertility. This means it may no longer be possible to conceive a child. You may feel devastated if you are unable to have children, and may worry about the impact of this on your relationship or future relationships. Even if your family is complete or you were not planning to have children, you may feel distress.
For more on this, see Fertility and cancer.
|thinking and memory changes||Some people diagnosed with cancer notice changes in the way they think and remember information. This is often called “chemo brain”, but it can happen even if you don’t have chemotherapy. It is also known as “cancer fog” or “cancer-related cognitive impairment”. These changes are usually temporary and get better with time, but can have a big impact on your emotional wellbeing.|
Dr Anna Hughes, Liaison Psychiatrist and Psycho-oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Mary Bairstow, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Anita Bamert, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Sally Carveth, Assistant Coordinator, Cancer Support Leader Program, Cancer Council NSW; Matt Featherstone, Consumer; Dr Charlotte Tottman, Clinical Psychologist, Allied Consultant Psychologists and Flinders University, SA; Shirley Witko, Senior Social Worker, Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.