Physical effects and emotions

The physical impact of cancer and cancer treatment may affect your quality of life and emotions in different ways. People who experience physical symptoms, such as fatigue, pain and nausea, can also experience emotional distress. How long these effects last varies from person to person, but they can increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression.

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Feeling exhausted and lacking energy for day-to-day activities is the most common side effect of cancer treatment. This is known as fatigue. It differs from normal tiredness as it often doesn’t go away with rest or sleep. For example, when chemotherapy affects red blood cells (anaemia). It can also be caused by the effort of coping with the physical and emotional effects of diagnosis and treatment.

Ways to manage fatigue

  • Plan to do things at the time of day when you feel less tired. Keep a journal to track your ‘good times’.
  • Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes so they don’t make it hard to sleep at night.
  • Try to spend time outside in the fresh air each day.
  • Pace yourself by doing one thing a day rather than overdoing it just because you feel a bit better.
  • Do some exercise every day. Research shows it can help reduce tiredness and preserve muscle strength.

Listen to our podcasts on Managing Cancer Fatigue and Sleep and Cancer


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.

For more on this call Cancer Council 13 11 20, or see Overcoming Cancer Pain.

Listen to our podcast on Managing Cancer Pain

Changes in appetite

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 eat more. A change in appetite can make you feel distressed.

Ways to manage appetite

  • Try to eat a well-balanced diet to help your body cope better with the effects of treatments, give you more energy and maintain your wellbeing.
  • Eat smaller portions more often during the day and choose full-fat foods whenever possible.
  • Talk to a dietitian for suggestions on managing your appetite.
  • Contact Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information and ideas on improving your nutrition and to request a copy of Nutrition and Cancer, or download a copy below.

Listen to our podcast on Appetite Loss and Nausea

Changing body image

Cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can cause changes to your body. 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. You may feel less confident about who you are and what you can do. This is a common reaction whether or not your body has changed physically.

Ways to improve self-esteem

  • 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.
  • Participate in the Look Good Feel Better program. This free two-hour workshop teaches women, men and adolescents how to use skin care, hats and wigs to reduce appearance-related side effects during and after treatment. Call 1800 650 960 or go to for more information and to register for a workshop.
  • Have your wig fitting before starting treatment so you can match it to the colour and texture of your real hair.
  • Care for dry skin with a mild soap and moisturiser, and avoid exfoliating ingredients.
  • Participate in activities you enjoy, such as sport, painting, music and craft, which may increase your self-confidence.
  • For practical suggestions about hair loss and other physical changes, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Loss of interest in sex

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.

Cancer treatments may affect your sexual organs or your ability to become aroused. You may also feel tired and unwell, or you may be too worried about the cancer to think about sex. Low libido can also occur when cancer treatments disturb your normal hormone balance or if you are feeling depressed. Often low sex-drive starts to improve after treatment is finished, but for some people it’s ongoing.

Ways to maintain intimacy

  • While sexual intercourse may not always be possible during and immediately after treatment, holding, cuddling, kissing and caressing are other ways to show love and affection or express sexual feelings.
  • If sex is painful, or you have concerns about the safety of sexual activity, check with your doctor.
  • Use counselling, either individually or together, to discuss how cancer affects your sense of self and the relationship with your partner.
  • Cancer Council offers a private and personalised online program that addresses sexual concerns for adults. Find out more at
  • Read more about managing interest in sex in Sexuality, Intimacy and Cancer. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to request a copy, or download one below.
  • Talk to your treatment provider about any concerns you have about low sex drive.

Listen to our podcast on Brain Fog and Cancer


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.

Many people experience a sense of loss when they learn that their reproductive organs will be removed or will no longer function. 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 some distress.

Ways to preserve fertility

  • Talk to a fertility specialist before starting treatment to discuss options for preserving fertility before and during cancer treatment, and to find out what your options may be after treatment ends.
  • Common options for women include in vitro fertilisation (IVF), ovarian tissue freezing and hormone treatments known as ovarian supression.
  • Common options for men include sperm banking and shielding the testicle during radiation therapy.
  • If you have a partner, let them know how you’re feeling. Speaking to a counsellor, gynaecological oncology nurse or prostate care nurse may also help.
  • You can find more information in Cancer Council’s booklet Fertility and Cancer. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for a free copy, or download it below.

Sleeping problems

Sleep is important to help your body cope with cancer treatment, including physical and emotional aspects. Sleep can be affected by worry, pain (for example, after surgery), hormonal changes such as hot flushes in women who become menopausal, and nausea. As many people are not as physically active during their treatment, their body is not as tired and they find it harder to sleep. Feeling sad or depressed can also make it difficult to sleep well at night.

Ways to improve sleep

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Put screens (mobile phone, tablet, computer or TV) away an hour before bedtime and do something relaxing – have a bath, read, listen to music or drink a glass of warm milk.
  • Avoid coffee, tea and other caffeine products, such as chocolate and cola drinks, after early afternoon.
  • Try to not sleep during the day. If you feel you can’t stay awake, limit naps to 30 minutes.
  • Get some physical exercise every day, but avoid any exercise two hours before going to bed.
  • Use relaxation techniques, such as the Cancer Council relaxation CD, to prepare you for bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet.
  • If you can’t sleep, get up and sit quietly on the couch until you feel sleepy again. Avoid turning on bright lights, reading or watching TV as these activities tend to wake you up more.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Emotions and Cancer.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

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”.
Need more information? Visit:

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.

Need more help? Visit:

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.
Need more help? Visit

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.

This information was last reviewed in January 2016
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