Do What You Can to Ease Side Effects of Treatment for Liver Cancer
It's likely that you will have physical concerns since your cancer may cause symptoms and 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 treating liver cancer.
Here are some common side effects from treatment for liver cancer and how to ease them. You may not have all of these. We've listed them in alphabetical order so that you can find help when you need it.
Anemia (low red blood cell levels)
Your doctor will take blood samples from you for blood tests throughout your treatment. One thing he or she is checking for 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, radiation, or stem cell transplants; or by the cancer itself.
If your doctor tells you that you have anemia, take these actions to feel better:
Anxiety and depression
Many people may feel blue, anxious, or distressed after being told they have cancer. These feelings may continue or come back throughout treatment.
Taking these actions may ease your mental stress:
Eating well during cancer treatment can help you maintain your strength, stay active, and lower your chance 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 to you 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. A nutritionist can help you learn what is best for you to eat and drink during your cancer treatment.
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, apple juices, and other liquids, try these foods to increase fluids: gelatin, pudding, soups, Popsicles, and ice cream.
Bruising and bleeding
The liver helps the blood to clot by making clotting factors and by signaling the bone marrow to make platelets. Both clotting factors and platelets are necessary to help stop bleeding when you get a cut or bruise. Cirrhosis and liver cancer may lower the amount of clotting factors and platelets. Chemotherapy can interfere with your body's ability to make platelets. The following are signs of excessive bleeding. If you notice them, report them to your doctor:
If your doctor tells you your platelet count is low, take these steps to help minimize your risk for bleeding:
Check with your doctor before taking any prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal medications. Some, such as aspirin, may further increase your risk for bleeding.
Be especially careful not to cut yourself when using knives, scissors, clippers, or other sharp tools.
This may be a side effect of chemotherapy or some pain medicines. Constipation may include difficult or infrequent bowel movements. It can range from mildly uncomfortable to painful. Taking 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.
Many drugs can cause bowel changes. This may be a side effect of chemotherapy. Diarrhea, which includes loose or frequent bowel movements, or both, may lead to dehydration if you don't take these precautions:
Avoid milk and milk products.
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).
Drink more fluids, such as water and broth, to prevent dehydration.
Ask your doctor about medications that may help.
Dry or irritated skin
This may be a side effect of radiation therapy. You can take care of your skin in the following ways:
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 two hours after radiation treatment because they may cause irritation.
Losing your hair (called alopecia) can be upsetting because baldness is a visible reminder that you are being treated for cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation to the head can cause hair loss. Keep in mind that your hair will probably grow back after treatment.
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.
Because chemotherapy can reduce the number of white blood cells in your body, it can decrease your body's ability to fight off infection.
Taking these actions may reduce your risk for infection:
Take a warm bath, shower, or sponge bath every day. Do not use harsh bath products, such as skin scrubs. Do not rub your skin too hard with washcloths or towels.
Call your doctor right away if you have any of these signs of infection: a temperature of 100.5 degrees or higher, severe chills, a cough, pain, a burning sensation during urination, or any sores or redness.
Some types of chemotherapy can harm a woman's ovaries. Or they may cause menopausal symptoms in women. These symptoms include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and weight changes. Periods may become irregular or may stop, and you may not be able to get pregnant. For some women, the loss of a menstrual period is permanent. These steps may help you cope:
Talk with your doctor about ways to manage menopausal symptoms, such as using lubricants for vaginal dryness, doing mild exercise, and talking with a therapist about mood swings or signs of depression.
Mouth sores (mucositis)
Some types of chemotherapy may cause mouth sores. These may hurt and make eating an unpleasant experience.
To prevent sores in your mouth, take these actions:
To ease the pain if you get sores in your mouth, take these actions:
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 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 by medications taken at the time of the chemotherapy:
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 might be bland foods, sour candy, pickles, dry crackers, ginger ale, flat soda, or others.
Thinking and remembering 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 and fatigue
Tiredness is a very common symptom and side effect from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. It is also a symptom of anemia, which is a low red blood cell count as noted from blood tests. Or it can be caused from a B12 vitamin or iron deficiency, which your doctor may also find in a blood test. Whatever the cause, 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 for a while, even after treatment ends:
If your fatigue is severe or chronic, ask for help with routine tasks that can drain your energy, such as grocery shopping or housework. Some people reduce their hours at work.