- 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 its treatment can influence each other. Let your treatment team know if you have any new or ongoing side effects.
|pain and fatigue||Cancer does not always cause pain, but if it does, tell your treatment team, as there are now many ways to relieve pain. 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 leave you feeling 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 affect the way you feel about yourself (your self-esteem) and leave you feeling self-conscious and less confident. |
|sexuality issues||Certain cancer treatments directly affect the body’s sexual organs or hormone balance, but 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 issues||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 how it will affect your relationship or future relationships. You may also feel a sense of loss even if your family is complete or you were not planning to have children. |
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 “brain fog” or “cancer-related cognitive impairment”. These changes are often temporary and get better with time, but they can have a big impact on your emotional wellbeing. |
Podcast: Brain Fog and Cancer
A/Prof Anne Burke, Co-Director, Psychology and Allied Health Lead, Cancer, Central Adelaide Local Health Network and The University of Adelaide, SA; Hannah Chen, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland; Hazel Everett, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Services, St John of God Subiaco Hospital, WA; Shona Gates, Senior Social Worker, North West Cancer Centre, TAS; Dr Jemma Gilchrist, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Mind My Health and Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead, NSW; Sandra Hodge, Consumer; Dr Michael Murphy, Psychiatrist and Clinician Researcher, Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Alesha Thai, Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Alan White, Consumer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.