Do What You Can to Ease Side Effects of Treatment for Stomach Cancer
It's likely that you will have physical concerns because along with your cancer symptoms, your treatment may cause side effects, too. The side effects depend on your treatment and that depends largely on how much the cancer has spread outside your stomach or to other organs. We've listed some common side effects from stomach cancer treatments and how to ease them. They are listed in alphabetical order, so you can find help when you need it.
See "Dumping Syndrome" and "Heartburn."
Anemia (low red blood cell levels)
Throughout your treatment, your doctor will take small samples of your blood to check your level of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Surgery may decrease your level of red blood cells. This can make you feel tired. This condition is called anemia.
The main reason for anemia with stomach cancer is that iron, a mineral that helps the red blood cells pick up and carry oxygen, is not well absorbed from your stomach. Removing your stomach makes it harder for your body to digest, absorb, and use iron. Your body also may not be able to absorb folate and vitamin B12, vitamins that help with the iron-absorption process. Anemia can also be caused by small amounts of blood loss, chemotherapy or radiation, or the cancer itself. If your doctor tells you that you have anemia, take these actions to feel better.
Talk with your doctor about medications or treatments that may help manage your anemia. You'll probably need to take iron and folate supplements, as well as receive monthly vitamin B12 shots.
If your anemia is mainly due to chemotherapy and your cancer is at a more advanced stage, you may receive a shot called an ESA (erythrocyte-stimulating agent).
Anxiety and depression
Many people may feel blue, anxious, or distressed after being told they have cancer. These feelings may continue or come back during treatment. Taking these actions may ease your mental stress.
Constipation, which includes difficult or infrequent bowel movements, can range from mildly uncomfortable to painful. This may be a side effect of chemotherapy or some pain medicines. Taking narcotic pain medications can lead to constipation, so it's wise to take these preventive actions. These same steps will give you relief if you are already constipated.
Eat foods high in fiber, such as cereals, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Diarrhea includes loose or frequent bowel movements, or both. It may be a side effect of external beam radiation therapy. Many chemotherapy drugs may cause bowel changes, too. Diarrhea may lead to dehydration if you don't take these precautions.
Avoid gas-producing vegetables, dried fruit, fiber cereals, seeds, popcorn, nuts, corn and dried beans.
Eat low-residue, low-fiber foods such as those included in the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast).
The most common long-term problem after stomach cancer surgery is called dumping syndrome. The food you eat travels quickly into your small intestine, within about 10 to 20 minutes after eating. Your stomach and duodenum may no longer be able to aid digestion and remove excess fluid. So the rest of your digestive system has to do that work.
As a result, you may notice a feeling of fullness and pain in the stomach area. You may also have cramping, flushing, diarrhea, and dizziness, and feel your heart racing. These symptoms usually all go away once you have emptied your bowels.
These are steps you can take to prevent or lessen these problems.
Losing your hair can be upsetting because thinning or baldness is a visible reminder that you are being treated for cancer. Keep in mind that your hair will grow back after chemotherapy.
Try these coping tips.
Think about getting a wig, hat, or scarf before your hair loss starts. That way, you can get a wig that matches your hair, and you'll be ready with head coverings, if you choose to use them.
Surgery for stomach cancer may cause bloating, abdominal pain, and heartburn. You may feel full after eating small meals. These side effects can be relieved with changes in diet. Try these tips.
Increase your fiber intake, including fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Some types of fiber add bulk to your food and help it to move more quickly through the digestive tract. Good sources of fiber include apples, pears, figs, strawberries, raisins, carrots, whole grain breads and cereals, corn, peas, and peanuts, to name a few.
Talk with your doctor before taking over-the-counter antacids. This is important because antacids can interact with many different prescription drugs. Furthermore, some antacids can cause constipation or diarrhea, which may further complicate other side effects you may be experiencing.
Throughout your treatment you doctor will take small samples of your blood to check you level of white blood cells. Many types of chemotherapy can cause low white blood cell counts, called neutropenia. Without enough white blood cells, your body may not be able to fight infection. If your doctor tells you that your white blood cell count is low, take these actions to stay healthy.
Call your doctor right away if you have any of these signs of infection: a temperature of 100.5°F (38.05°C) or higher, severe chills, a cough, pain, a burning sensation during urination, or any sores or redness.
Mouth sores (also called mucositis)
Some types of chemotherapy may cause mouth sores. These sores may hurt and make eating an unpleasant experience.
To prevent sores in your mouth, take these actions.
Brush your teeth after meals and before bedtime.
Floss every day.
Keep your mouth and lips clean and moist.
Use sugar-free candies or gums to increase moisture in your mouth.
If you get sores in your mouth, taking these actions can ease the pain.
Nausea or vomiting
Nausea or vomiting as a result of chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer may range from barely noticeable to severe. You may also notice nausea and vomiting after eating. It may help you to understand the different types of nausea.
After surgery, you may have a smaller stomach or even no stomach left to contain the food you eat. Digestion-related nausea and vomiting can result from too much food inside a smaller stomach.
Anticipatory nausea and vomiting are learned from previous experiences with vomiting. As you prepare for the next dose of chemotherapy, you may anticipate that nausea and vomiting will occur as it did previously, which triggers the actual reflex.
To prevent nausea, take these actions. Most nausea can be prevented.
To help ease nausea or vomiting, try these tips.
Try eating foods and drinking beverages that were easy to take or made you feel better when you had the flu or were nauseated from stress. These might be bland foods, sour candy, pickles, dry crackers, ginger ale, flat soda or others.
Numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in your hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)
If you have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hands and feet, you may have nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy. Some types of chemotherapy are known to cause this. Other signs of this problem are ringing in your ears or trouble feeling hot or cold. If you have symptoms such as these, take these precautions to protect yourself.
You may have pain or tenderness from the cancer itself or from surgical incisions. Try these tips to ease the pain.
Feelings of depression from having cancer or fatigue from other treatments can also have a negative impact on your sexual desires. Here are some ways you may cope.
Skin irritation or dryness
This may be a side effect of some chemotherapy or external beam radiation treatment.
Ask your doctor or nurse what kind of lotion you can use to moisturize and soothe your skin. Don't use any lotion, soap, deodorant, sunblock, cologne, cosmetics, or powder on your skin within 2 hours after treatment because they may cause irritation.
Thinking and memory problems
You may have mild problems with concentration and memory during and after chemotherapy. Being tired can make this worse. Taking these actions may help.
Tiredness is a very common symptom and side effect from surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. You may feel only slightly tired or you may suffer from extreme fatigue. Fatigue can last 4 to 6 weeks after treatment ends. Taking these actions may help increase your energy level.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
The stomach and duodenum normally help digest and absorb vitamins and minerals from the food you eat. When these organs are partially or totally removed, they aren't able to do this. So if you have part or all of your stomach removed, you may experience nutritional deficiencies. Most often, this includes iron, vitamin B12, and folate.
Here are some steps you can take to be sure you're getting enough of these vitamins and minerals.
This can result from chemotherapy. To help lose weight, take these actions.