Symptom management | Cancer | Salem Health
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Managing symptoms and side effects

Cancer patients may experience a variety of side effects from treatment. Talk with your doctor about what to expect based on your specific type of cancer and treatment plan.

For in-depth information, visit the National Cancer Institute’s side effects information page.


A cancer diagnosis is a life-altering and potentially overwhelming event. It is normal to feel a variety of strong emotions including sadness, grief, anxiety, anger, fear, guilt and depression.

Salem Health Cancer Institute has experienced professionals to meet with you and your family to talk about these concerns and provide coping strategies and support.

Nausea and vomiting

Some cancer treatments may cause nausea and vomiting. Your doctor can prescribe medications that may reduce or prevent this from happening.  

Decreased appetite

Cancer treatment may cause you to feel less hungry than normal. It can also cause food to taste different. Our registered dietitian can provide useful tips to help you maintain your weight during treatment. 


Cancer-related fatigue is a common side effect of treatment. Try to find a balance between rest and exercise to help relieve fatigue. Rest alone does not alleviate this type of fatigue.

Bowel care

Cancer treatments can cause changes to your normal bowel routine. You could experience constipationdiarrhea or both. Talk to your doctor about medications that can help. Make sure you get plenty of fluids every day.

Decreased immune system

Some types of cancer treatments, like chemotherapy, may increase your risk of infection. This is because they lower the number of white blood cells. White blood cells help your body to fight infection. Washing your hands frequently is the best way to protect yourself from infection. Getting proper sleep, nutrition and exercise will also help keep your body strong. Infections during cancer treatment can be life-threatening and require urgent medical attention. Call your doctor if you have signs of an infection.

Hair loss

Some types of cancer treatment may cause hair loss on your head or other parts of your body. Talk to your nurse about resources for hats, wigs and scarves. Most patients’ hair grows back within a couple of months after completing treatment. 

Lymphedema and breast cancer

Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the tissue (usually arms and hands) that causes swelling. In the case of breast cancer, lymphedema risk is increased by removal of lymph nodes during surgery and by radiation treatment to the area. Lymphedema can cause pain, limited range of motion, skin changes, numbness and an increased likelihood for infection.

The best way to manage lymphedema is with thoughtful skin care and moderate exercise. There is a small chance that severe overuse could cause or worsen lymphedema. If you experience arm swelling or increased pain after a particular activity, stop the activity until discussing it with your doctor or physical therapist.

Range of motion

During radiation treatment, all cells and tissues along the path of the radiation receive some damage.

Skin usually becomes dry, flaky, red and tender (a lot like a sunburn). Under the skin, tissues react by forming scars, called fibrosis, and binding spots, called adhesions. This can make raising an arm or moving a leg difficult and painful.

In therapy sessions, we’ll give you the tools, exercises and education to help you overcome these limitations.

Surgical soreness

Your muscles may be sore and tight after surgery, making it painful to stay still during radiation treatment. In therapy, we will work with you to reduce discomfort. Physical therapists provide exercises that help you regain strength and flexibility.