NCCN Guidelines for Patients® | Caring for Adolescents and Young Adults - page 61

NCCN Guidelines for Patients
: Caring for Adolescents and Young Adults
Version 2013
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Part 6: Coping with side effects
Side effects are a fact of life when you’re being treated
for cancer. With some treatments, side effects are
relatively mild and don’t interfere much with day-to-day
life. With others, side effects can make it hard to do much
of anything—at least in the days right after treatment.
Fortunately, a better understanding of just why side
effects happen has made it easier to prevent side effects,
like nausea and vomiting, and to treat such problems
when they do arise. Also, newer drugs and improved
technology are making it easier to target cancer cells with
less damage to healthy tissues, which can help prevent
side effects from happening.
Why side effects happen
Most side effects happen because healthy cells get
damaged in the battle to rid your body of cancer.
Radiation that kills tumor cells will also damage nearby
normal cells. Chemotherapy drugs that attack fast-
dividing cancer cells can also damage normal cells that
divide rapidly.
Side effects can also be caused by your body’s reaction
to this damage. When healthy cells are hurt or die, for
example, the immune system sends in special cells to
deal with the threat, leading to inflammation and more
cell damage. (Kind of like what happens when the skin
around a small cut gets red and puffy as it heals.)
Most side effects tend to be worst in the days right
after treatment is given and subside once treatment is
complete. But some treatment-induced damage does
not heal when treatment is over, leading to long-term
problems such as early menopause and infertility (see
Part 3) and an increased risk of later health problems,
including some forms of leukemia. Since you may be
living for many, many years after treatment is over, your
oncology team will carefully consider the risk of long-term
side effects when developing your treatment plan.
The side effects you’re likely to face will depend on
your treatment plan. In general, drugs that have broad
effects—such as some chemotherapies—tend to cause
more side effects than drugs designed to zero in on
cancer cells, such as targeted therapy drugs and immune
therapy drugs. Higher doses may also cause more
severe side effects.
What you can do: The basics
Taking good care of yourself is the first and most
important thing you can do to prepare for the treatment
process. The healthier you are before and during
treatment, the easier it will be to recover from unwanted
side effects. So if you’re already fairly athletic and a fan
of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods, you’ll want
to continue those healthy behaviors. And if you lean more
towards the couch potato end of the spectrum, it may
be time to make a few basic changes to maximize your
general health during cancer treatment.
Feed yourself well
Keeping yourself well-fed can help ward off fatigue and
weight loss during treatment and help you bounce back
when treatment is done. If your treatment team doesn’t
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