Dealing With the Side Effects of Your Cancer Treatment

In Breast Cancer, Recent Posts by Barbara Jacoby

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Anyone who watches television most likely has seen the ads for breast cancer medications as presented on behalf of various drug manufacturers. You may have heard the announcer’s attempt to quickly name the possible side effects or you might have watched the endless scroll at the bottom of the screen that lists them so quickly that it is impossible to read. And this is only for a single drug treatment! And while we can’t begin to imagine all of the side effects for the whole host of cancer treatments now on the market, the bigger question is: how can a person deal with these issues if/when they arise? That is why I decided to team up with Med-IQ to help generate awareness about how one might deal with the side effects of cancer treatments. Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals.

The most important factor for you, as a patient, with regard to any treatment should be the discussion with your medical team that includes what to expect in terms of potential side effects. Such knowledge greatly helps to alleviate living in fear when you know what to expect and what you should do if you experience any of the side effects. This, in turn, enhances the doctor/patient relationship and your trust in and adherence to the treatment plan to which you have agreed.

Hopefully, your oncologist has already informed you that should you experience serious side effects like difficulty breathing, increased pain, trouble swallowing, confusion, bleeding, swelling in the extremities and high fever, etc., you should immediately seek emergency care. These are the types of issues for which you would normally seek emergency assistance even if you were not taking a cancer medication. But what about other problems or situations with which you are dealing that may or may not be related to your treatment? How does one know what to do and to whom they should be directing their concerns?

If you are experiencing issues that you need to have addressed, you might want to keep a daily journal wherein you note the side effects, when they occur and how severe they are. And it is also extremely important to keep a complete list of any other medications including over-the-counter supplements, etc. that you are taking as one of these may be creating an interaction that you would never have imagined. This is the best way for your oncologist to have a complete picture of your experience in order to provide you with the best possible assessment of the issue and how to deal with it. Your medical team has been dealing with many other cancer patients for years and most likely has already encountered the same types of situations as yours in the past.

Your oncologist also has the best access to answers from other colleagues and pharmaceutical companies to get help for their patients. And if you are experiencing a side effect that other professionals have not already encountered, it becomes even more important for the entire oncology community to have this information in order to find solutions, not only for you but also to achieve better treatment in the future for others.

Most importantly, please do not ever just stop taking the medication or treatment. If you are having problems, you should immediately inform your doctor with a request for help. The solution may be as simple as a change in dosage or a change to another medication. The most important thing to remember is that each of us is as unique as our fingerprints and so are our cancers. This is the reason why there are a variety of treatments and combinations of drugs that are prescribed for patients. As an example, a hormone therapy drug that I was prescribed caused major joint pain for me but the very same drug when given to my sister produced no similar side effect for her.

The side effects of cancer treatments are vast, and you should put yourself in the best possible position to deal with your individual needs. You have the right and opportunity to access a great variety of resources in order to live the best life possible. If your medical team does not assist you with your issues, then you should seek care elsewhere. No one is going to be vested in your personal care and life more than you are, so you should pursue all avenues available until you get what you need. After all, it is your life, and you only have one.

Disclaimer: I was compensated by Med-IQ through educational grants from AbbVie, Astellas, and Genentech to write about communicating symptoms and treatment side effects with the healthcare team. All opinions are my own.

Med-IQ is conducting a survey and would appreciate your input. The survey, which includes additional education on this topic, will take less than 15 minutes to complete. Survey responses are anonymous and will be shared only in aggregate.

Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about your experiences with cancer symptoms, treatment-related side effects, and your care team, which will help us develop future educational initiatives for healthcare providers to improve care.

Once you've completed the survey,

you will be asked to provide your email address if you’d like to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 5 $100 VISA gift cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will not be sold, kept, or stored; email addresses are used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize.