Do What You Can to Ease Side Effects of Treatment for a Brain Tumor
It's likely that you will have physical concerns. Your cancer may cause symptoms. Your treatment may cause side effects. In this section, you'll learn more about how to respond to some of the most common side effects and symptoms from a brain tumor and its treatment.
Here are some common side effects from treatment for a brain tumor and how to ease them. You may not have all of these. We've listed them in alphabetical order so you can find help when you need it.
Anemia (low red blood cell levels)
Throughout your treatment, your doctor will test your blood. One thing he or she is checking is your red blood cell count. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. If your body does not have this oxygen, you may feel tired. Decreased red blood cell counts can be caused by small amounts of blood loss, by chemotherapy or radiation, or by the cancer itself. This is called anemia.
If your doctor tells you that you have anemia, take these actions to feel better:
Eating well during cancer treatment can help you maintain your strength, stay active, and lower your chances of infection. When you're being treated for cancer, a diet high in calories and protein is best. The problem is that side effects of treatment can change the way food tastes or reduce your appetite. Try these tips to stimulate your desire to eat:
If you can, eat foods high in protein several times a day. These foods include: milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, eggs, beans, peanut butter, and nuts. Protein helps build and repair tissue, and cancer treatments cause you to use more protein than usual.
If you can, eat high calorie foods to help you maintain your weight, such as margarine or butter, sugar, honey, jams, jellies, cream cheese, dried fruit, gravies or sauces, mayonnaise, and salad dressing.
Get plenty of fluids to help control your body temperature and improve food elimination. In addition to water, fruit juices, and other liquids, try these foods to increase fluids: gelatin, pudding, soups, Popsicles, and ice cream.
On days you don't feel like eating at all, don't worry about it. Try again the next day. If you find your appetite doesn't improve in several days, talk with your doctor or nurse.
Bleeding or bruises
Your doctor will take blood samples from you for blood tests throughout your treatment. One thing he or she is checking for is your platelet levels. These blood cells help with blood clotting. Many types of chemotherapy can cause low platelet levels, as can the cancer itself. A lowered platelet level is called thrombocytopenia. Without enough platelets, your blood may not be able to clot. You may have symptoms such as nose bleeds or bruising.
If your doctor tells you that your platelet count is low, take these actions to stay healthy:
During radiation therapy for a brain tumor you may find that you become more sensitive to cold. Try these coping tips:
Hair loss (alopecia)
Losing your hair can be upsetting because baldness is a visible reminder that you are being treated for cancer. Keep in mind, your hair will grow back after chemotherapy; however, it may not grow back after radiation. 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.
Headache pain might be from the tumor, from the surgery, from radiation or radiation necrosis. Try these tips to ease pain:
Your doctor will take blood samples from you for blood tests throughout your treatment. One thing he or she is checking for is your white blood cell count. Many types of chemotherapy can cause low white blood cell counts. Lowered white cell counts is 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°C) or higher, severe chills, a cough, pain, a burning sensation during urination, or any sores or redness.
Mouth sores (mucositis)
Some types of chemotherapy may cause these. Mouth sores may hurt and make eating an unpleasant experience.
To prevent sores, take these actions:
If you get sores in your mouth, take these actions to 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. It may help you to understand the different types of nausea:
Anticipatory nausea and vomiting. These 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 if you have it, try these tips:
Try eating foods and drinking beverages that were easy to take or made you feel better when you've had the flu or were nauseated from stress. These may be bland foods, sour candy, pickles, dry crackers, ginger ale, flat soda, or others.
Sex drive changes (libido)
Radiation therapy may decrease your desire to have sex. 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:
Tiredness and fatigue
Tiredness is a very common symptom and side effect from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. You may feel only slightly tired, or you may suffer from extreme fatigue.
Taking these actions may help increase your energy level. Fatigue can last 4 to 6 weeks after treatment ends:
Thinking and remembering problems
You may have problems with concentration and memory from radiation, chemotherapy, or the cancer itself. Being tired can make this worse.
Taking these actions may help:
Let your medical team know about any cognitive changes you have and ask what can be done about them. Treatment to help manage cognitive changes may be especially important after treatment ends. Dementia medications may help with memory problems after radiation therapy for brain cancer.