Because treatment options and medications can vary greatly depending on the type of cancer a person has, the best techniques for managing cancer and treatment symptoms also vary. Initial cancer symptoms that almost everyone experiences before treatment but after diagnosis can consist of:
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How To Manage Depression During Cancer
While it is completely normal to go through sad and overwhelmed emotions after a diagnosis, about 1 in every 4 people who have cancer suffer from depression as well. It is important to know how to recognize the difference between feelings of sadness and fear, and those of depression. If you are experiencing depression, seek help as soon as possible. Individuals suffering from depression often experience:
- Feelings of grievance that last for weeks and do not improve
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Trouble completing day-to-day activities
Medical Treatments and Side Effects
Cancer has three main forms of treatment. These are: chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Below are brief descriptions of each along with their possible side effects.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy (or Chemo) is cancer treatment through powerful medications. These medications can be taken orally, or given via injection. Typically, chemotherapy uses a combination of multiple drugs. These drugs have the power to treat cancer throughout the entire body, as they are absorbed in your blood stream. This is something that surgery and radiation cannot do. Because the chemotherapy drugs are so strong, they are given in cycles determined by your physician based on your specific cancer type. Physicians will be careful to leave space in between chemotherapy cycles, to allow normal cells time to recover and to minimize side effects. Side effects of chemotherapy vary just as doses and medications provided do. Those side effects experienced most commonly include nausea/vomiting, temporary hair loss, risk of infection, and fatigue. Although these side effects are not pleasant ones, they can typically be controlled through adjustments to the medication cycle. It is important to keep your doctor informed of anything you are experiencing so that they can change dosage or schedule as necessary.
- Radiation – Radiation can be given to a patient in one of two ways. The first is external radiation, which is given through high-energy rays from a machine, much like an x-ray. The second is internal radiation, which in an implant that is placed inside the body. This implant treatment can also be called brachytherapy. These types of treatment are used to target very specific areas of localized cancer. They destroy the cells so that they are unable to continue growing. External radiation typically takes 5-8 weeks, again depending upon the severity and location of the cancer. Patients will often have 5 days of radiation treatment in a row, and then will have the rest of the week to rest and recover. Internal radiation is either done with local anesthesia (which numbs an area to allow the implant to be placed,) or general anesthesia (which puts the patient into a deep sleep in order to place the implant.) Once the implant is placed, it releases radiation to the area of the tumor. Side effects of radiation most frequently experienced when undergoing radiation therapy are fatigue, changes in the skin of treatment areas, and appetite loss. If treatment area includes scalp, hair loss can additionally be experienced. Radiation side effects can sometimes be delayed and appear several years after treatment. As with chemotherapy, there are ways to help ease these side effects if experienced. Again, always clearly communicate with your physician concerning anything you are experiencing so that they are able to make necessary treatment changes.
- Surgery – Frequently, surgery is used to remove areas of cancerous cells and neighboring tissue it may have spread to. At times, it can be difficult for a surgeon to determine the extent of surgery necessary until they begin the operation and are able to have a better look around. The most successful surgeries are performed on localized tumors that have not yet spread. In general, surgery offers the highest chance for a cure for many different kinds of cancer. It can be used in conjunction with radiation, chemotherapy, or both depending upon the patient’s specific needs. Side effects experienced with surgery can vary greatly but commonly include soreness or tenderness on areas of incision
Complementary Therapies For Patients With Cancer
As stated above, specialists are dedicated to helping you manage any chosen treatment methods, and will do their best to keep treatment options flexible and find ones that work best for you. Actively communicating with your physician and asking specific questions at all times during treatment will help them to make the treatment more comfortable for you. Additionally, other drug options can help to lessen the side effects of cancer treatments. These therapies are called biologic therapies or immunotherapy, and they boost the body’s natural immune system so that it is better able to fight cancer without as many negative side effects. Like other treatments, biologic therapies can slow down and even stop abnormal cell growth while helping to fix the healthy cells.
Doctors also put focus on things they term complementary and alternative therapies. While alternative therapies have not been proven safe and are not recommended, complementary therapies are viewed as helpful. Complementary therapies are ways to treat cancer and relieve its negative symptoms that are done in addition to the medical therapy options listed above. This can include developing a healthy diet with vitamins and herbal supplements, following an exercise program, or participating in meditation, massage, or acupuncture. These things are known to reduce stress, pain, and nausea and can often help patients get some relief from their cancer symptoms and medical treatment side effects.