Physical Health After Treatment
For many cancer survivors, life doesn’t simply return to normal after treatment. Due to the intensive interventions used to treat cancer, long-term physical side effects are common among cancer survivors. While these physical symptoms can linger, there are many ways to regain your health after treatment.
Survivors often report a change in cognitive function as a long-term effect of many cancer therapies, including chemotherapy (“chemo brain”), surgery and radiation.
Studies show between 60 and 80% of cancer patients have cognitive symptoms — including memory loss, difficulty concentrating or trouble thinking clearly — with about 30% of survivors continuing to experience symptoms long term.
Cancer survivors who may be dealing with changes in cognitive function can work with City of Hope’s Occupational Therapy team to help overcome these challenges.
Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common symptoms reported among survivors — studies show up to 50% of survivors experience persistent fatigue.
Fatigue usually lessens when cancer treatment ends, but it’s normal for symptoms to last after treatment. At City of Hope, we use a multidisciplinary approach to help patients overcome cancer-related fatigue.
Some tips to manage fatigue are to plan your day with short rest breaks, get involved in aerobic or strength-building exercise programs, and prioritize the activities that are most important to you.
While cancer treatment can cause both men and women to develop hot flashes, the symptom is most common in women taking anti-estrogen therapy for breast cancer or men taking androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer.
Make sure to talk with your survivorship care provider if you are experiencing hot flashes.
Cancer treatment can affect cancer survivors' fertility. Those who have undergone treatment are at higher risk for infertility, early onset of menopause and negative pregnancy outcomes such as difficulty getting pregnant, birth defects, genetic risks and effects on the health of their offspring.
The effects on fertility depend the type and stage of cancer, drugs given and cumulative dosages, radiation field, the extent of surgery, age, gender and genetic factors. There are many well-established fertility preservation and family-building alternatives available for cancer survivors following treatment.
Established fertility preservation options include:
- Sperm cryopreservation (sperm freezing)
- Oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing)
- Embryo cryopreservation (embryo freezing)
Common family-building alternatives include:
- Embryo donation
- Egg donation
- Sperm donation
Cancer treatment, particularly the removal of lymph nodes, can cause lymphedema, a condition when an abnormal collection of fluid under the skin causes an extremity to swell.
Lymphedema can be managed if caught early enough. City of Hope's Occupational Therapy Department provides therapists who specialize in this treatment.
Many chemotherapies or other cancer-related treatments, specifically breast cancer and prostate cancer therapies, have been shown to slow down metabolism and contribute to weight gain, even after treatment is complete. Other factors, such as immobility following surgery, fatigue and depression, can contribute to weight gain.
Maintaining a healthy BMI (body mass index) is essential in maintaining a healthy metabolism. If losing weight is overwhelming or too difficult to tackle independently, ask your doctor about City of Hope’s weight reduction clinic or certified nutritionist.
Cancer-related pain is common among survivors and is reported in nearly half of all cancer patients. But you don’t need to endure it; talk to your team about how pain caused by cancer diagnosis and treatment can be addressed.
Nerve damage caused by chemotherapy or surgery can lead to peripheral neuropathy, a condition common among cancer survivors. Symptoms often include numbness, tingling, burning or occasionally pain in your extremities.
Talk with your survivorship care provider about the many treatments available to help with this condition.
Cancer survivors who received chemotherapy or radiation treatment are at risk for developing a recurrence or second cancer. While the risk is generally low, it varies depending on the type of cancer originally treated, ranging from 2% among lymphoma survivors to 30% among survivors of small cell lung cancer.
Here at City of Hope, we are working to help ease patient’s anxiety by providing thorough screening for early detection of recurrences and secondary cancers.
Insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep) is especially common, affecting between 30 to 50% of survivors.
Many cancer patients experience changes in their sleep cycle when going through cancer treatment, and continue to experience these changes as long-term survivors.
Talk with your provider about strategies to improve your sleep.