Side Effects

Understand what side effects to expect and what benefits the treatment offers. Then weigh your willingness to tolerate the side effects to reap the benefits.

The goals of therapy can vary, and only you can decide what side effects you’re willing to accept to achieve your goal.
For example, if you’re a young person with a curable disease, you may be willing to tolerate very severe, short-term side effects for a chance of eliminating your disease. But if you are 85 and have an incurable disease, you may decide not to accept bad side effects if the goal is to live only an additional month or two.

Ask your doctor what the treatment will accomplish.

For example, the doctor’s statement that treatment will increase survival by 50 percent sounds great. But if 50 percent means increasing life from eight weeks to 12 weeks, and those remaining weeks are spent vomiting and battling nausea, weakness and fatigue, maybe you haven’t gained much.

Don’t all cancer treatments have awful side effects?

Not necessarily. Cancer treatments do have side effects, but most are predictable. Your doctor can outline a plan to prevent many side effects and otherwise treat or lessen others. In general, side effects are reversible, and helping you cope with them should be a focus of your doctor. Take the potential side effects into consideration when choosing a treatment, but also know that most aren’t as bad as you’ve heard.


Ask your doctor what you can expect:

  • How sick are you going to be?
  • How much energy are you going to have during treatment?
  • If you work 50 hours a week now, will you be able to work 50 hours a week during treatment? Will you be able to work 20 hours?

What role can your family and friends play?

Your family may have the best intentions, but family and friends may overwhelm you with their research efforts. They often can be overly enthusiastic in advocating aggressive treatment when they don’t fully understand the side effects and outcomes.

Friends and family are crucial to survival. Numerous studies have correlated cancer survival with social contacts. But know your limits. It’s OK to take a rest and regroup.

Set your priorities and acknowledge your limitations