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How Can I Manage My Symptoms and Side Effects?

You may experience symptoms from your cancer or side effects from your cancer treatments. Be sure to tell your cancer treatment team about any symptoms you are experiencing so they can determine if supportive or palliative care is appropriate. In most cases, these symptoms can be controlled with medications, exercises or other therapies to help you feel better and continue with your daily life.

Remember:

  • Take care of yourself. Eat well; drink plenty of water or non-caffeinated liquids that contain electrolytes; exercise when you are able and get enough rest, both at night and during the day. Listen to your body to help you know when to rest.
  • Ask to see a pulmonologist or respiratory therapist if you feel short of breath.
  • Don’t be afraid to take pain medications. Although many people may fear getting addicted to or “hooked” on pain medications, research has shown addiction is unlikely when these medications are used appropriately.
  • Ask your doctor for help if you experience long-term depression or sleeplessness. Living with any serious illness can cause mental exhaustion. It is normal to be worried, fearful, sad, or anxious. It is okay to ask for counseling or other help to deal with these feelings.
  • Your cancer or your treatment may affect your ability to be intimate with your spouse or significant other. Talk about this with your partner, and take time to just be together. If necessary, talk to your doctor or a counselor.
  • Write down your symptoms as you notice them, and take note of anything that makes you feel better or worse. Share this list with your cancer treatment team at each of your appointments.

Management of common symptoms and side effects

Ask your oncology nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or doctor to talk with you about how these or other methods may help you manage symptoms of your cancer or side effects of your treatments.

Side effects of immunotherapy

Immunotherapy can cause many different side effects and they can happen at any time. Common side effects of immunotherapy are generally mild and can include feeling tired (fatigue), itching, skin rashes, muscle, joint or bone pain, and nausea.

Be sure to report any change in symptoms to your doctor right away. In rare cases, the immune system overreacts, which can cause more serious side effects. Conditions such as pneumonitis (a lung problem with symptoms of cough, chest pain, or shortness of breath), or colitis (an intestinal problem that can cause diarrhea), can occur. These are not all the possible side effects of immunotherapy. It is very important to let your doctor know if you have new symptoms or if existing symptoms get worse.

Side effects of immunotherapy are treated differently than those of chemotherapy. Depending on the side effects, your dose of immunotherapy could be changed, treatment could be stopped or corticosteroid therapy might be used. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any concerns or side effects you experience.

Palliative care: Start early

Some of the care you receive may be designed to manage your symptoms related to lung cancer, and address any psychological, social or spiritual concerns you have. This care is called supportive or palliative care. In addition to improving how patients with advanced cancer feel, supportive and palliative care have recently been found to lengthen patients’ lives; it is not only for “end of life.” If you have advanced-stage cancer and you are not referred to a palliative care specialist soon after your diagnosis, ask to see one.

Possible Symptom or Side Effect* Recommendations
Pain Take pain medications as prescribed.
Both long-acting and short-acting pain medications are available. To be most effective, long-acting pain medications need to be taken before you feel the pain and are used on an ongoing basis to prevent and control pain. Short-acting medications can be used for immediate relief.
It is important to advocate for yourself and tell your doctor if you are having problems with pain. Unless you tell him or her, your doctor cannot know you are still having problems with pain.
Shortness of breath Use inhalers or other medications to open up airways or reduce swelling.
Use portable oxygen when directed by your doctor.
Severe sore throat Take pain medications or other medications before eating or as prescribed.
Eat soft, cool foods; avoid citrus and acidic foods, and carbonated or caffeinated drinks.
Skin rash/redness/peeling/itching Moisturize skin before, during and after therapy as recommended.
Wear loose-fitting clothes.
Stay out of the sun. Use sunscreen when you go outside.
Use hydrocortisone or antibiotic creams and/or oral antibiotics as prescribed.
Fatigue/tiredness Be kind to yourself. Rest when you need to and don’t take on additional activities.
Eat a healthy diet to ensure proper nutrition.
Have your red blood cell levels checked. If they are very low, you may need a transfusion.
Keep a regular exercise routine. Even light walking can help.
Nausea/vomiting Take anti-nausea medications as prescribed. These are usually most effective when taken before, during and after therapy.
Eat small meals throughout the day.
Hair loss Plan for hair loss by getting a haircut, wigs, hats or scarves.
Weaker immune system Wash your hands often and avoid being around people who are sick.
Numbness or tingling of hands/feet Avoid snug socks and shoes.
Exercise if you are able, including walking and other light activities.
Dress appropriately, especially for cold weather.
Diarrhea Drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids.
Take anti-diarrhea medications as prescribed.
Constipation Take stool softeners or laxatives as prescribed.
Weight loss Work with a nutritionist/dietitian to create a meal plan.
Avoid heavy and high protein meals prior to treatment.
Take medications as prescribed.
Chronic cough Your doctor may recommend treatment to address airway invasion from the cancer.
Take medications as prescribed.
*If you are on an immunotherapy, your side effects may be treated differently than those of chemotherapy or targeted therapy.