Symptoms that may arise after cancer treatment

Published 3:17 pm Thursday, October 14, 2021

Though millions of cancer survivors across the globe have recovered and gone on to live happy, full lives, many of those survivors face myriad challenges along the way, including symptoms that can linger or even first appear long after treatment has ended.

According to the Memorial Sloan Ketting Cancer Center, a majority of cancer survivors indicate it takes between six and 12 months after completing chemotherapy before they feel like themselves again. During that six- to 12-month period, and potentially even beyond that, cancer survivors may experience an assortment of symptoms.

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects patients feel during cancer treatment, but it doesn’t always go away once treatment ends. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute notes that fatigue is one of the most common complaints survivors have during the first year after treatment. Doctors and researchers have yet to figure out why fatigue can linger after treatment ends, though the DFCI recommends various strategies to help survivors combat post-treatment fatigue. One such strategy includes planning days in advance so survivors can be active at the times of day when they generally feel most alert and energetic. In addition, short naps between activities and a regular sleep schedule may help combat fatigue.

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Pain is another symptom that often arises both during and after cancer treatment. Many cancer survivors have reported feeling skin sensitivity, pain or numbness in the hands and feet and pain in a missing limb or breast after treatment ends. Doctors may prescribe medications, physical therapy, acupuncture, and or even surgery to help cancer survivors overcome post-treatment pain.

• Swelling: The DFCI notes that some cancer survivors experience lymphedema, a type of swelling caused by the buildup of lymph fluid. Lymphedema typically affects the arms or legs, and may affect the body right after surgery or months or years after treatment. Lymphedema can cause significant pain. Doctors may recommend various strategies to combat lymphedema, including eating a high-protein, low-salt diet. Some cancer survivors develop lymphedema after an insect bite, so doctors may advise patients to be especially vigilant in regard to protecting their arms and legs from insect bites as well as cuts and sunburn.

• Dental issues: The DFCI indicates that dental issues often affect people who have been treated for cancer. Radiation to the head and neck can cause issues with teeth and gums, the lining of the mouth, the glands that make saliva, and jawbones. Dry mouth, cavities and jaw stiffness are just a few of the conditions that can arise from treatment-related dental issues. Consultations with a dentist can help cancer survivors overcome these issues, though the DFCI warns that some may never go away.

Cancer survivors may experience various symptoms shortly or long after treatment ends. Survivors can work with their physicians to overcome these symptoms as they continue on their road to recovery.