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Managing the Side Effects of Kidney Cancer and Cancer Treatment

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about some of the side effects associated with kidney cancer and its treatment. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions related to your specific treatment.
Side effects are common and you may experience different ones during your treatment. Medications and other therapies may help to either prevent or reduce side effects of treatment, or to manage certain side effects when they occur. You can develop side effects from the treatment and/or from the cancer itself. Tell your doctor when you notice a new symptom, and ask if any of these treatments are appropriate for you.

Lack of Appetite

A loss of appetite is common during cancer treatment. Fatigue, discomfort, nausea, dry mouth, mouth sores, and loss of taste can play a part in reducing your desire to eat. To manage this common side effect:
  • Talk to a registered dietitian for nutrition suggestions.
  • Eat frequent, small meals instead of 3 large meals.
  • Eat healthy foods that appeal to you.
  • Eat around your appetite. For example, if you are most hungry in the morning, then that is when you should eat a large meal.
  • Ask your dietitian about liquid meal supplements. Some of these may be a good way to take in the calories you need.
  • Drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel like eating.

Nausea and Vomiting

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause nausea and vomiting. To treat this side effect, you may be prescribed an antiemetic. Some people also find hypnosis, guided imagery, relaxation techniques, and acupuncture helpful. Eat frequent, small meals. Sip water throughout the day; and avoid fatty, spicy, or greasy foods. Talk to a dietitian about other ways you can reduce nausea and vomiting with diet.

Skin Problems

You can develop a rash or your skin can become red and tender from your treatment. To treat skin irritations:
  • Use only mild soap and warm water when washing your skin.
  • Stay out of the sun.
  • Avoid hot showers.
  • Use lotions or creams that are approved by your doctor.
  • Be gentle with your skin:
    • Pat dry instead of rubbing.
    • Wear gloves when cleaning or gardening.

Fatigue

Fatigue is common in people with cancer. Medications, low red blood cell levels, emotional stress, pain medications, weight loss, and lack of appetite can all cause fatigue. Based on what is causing your fatigue, your doctor may recommend medications, a blood transfusion, a change in pain medications, talking to a therapist, exercise, and/or vitamins. Getting enough rest and listening to your body when you need to rest are also an important part of treating fatigue.

Mouth and Lip Sores

Chemotherapy can cause the mouth and/or lips to develop sores. To manage this side effect:
  • Eat soft, bland foods.
  • Avoid spicy, hot, or cold foods.
  • Suck on ice chips or drink small sips of water throughout the day.
  • Use a lip balm on your lips.
  • Avoid citrus foods.
  • Use a straw when drinking.

Stress

Going through treatment for cancer is stressful. Learn how to manage stressful situations within your control. Regular exercise may help.

Infection

Cancer drugs work by attacking cells that divide quickly. This also affects the white blood cells that fight infection. Depending upon your treatment, you may experience side effects that reduce your white blood cell count. This may make you more prone to infection. Other side effects include bruising easily, fatigue, and bleeding easily.

Hair Loss

Chemotherapy frequently causes hair loss. If your hair falls out, then wear a scarf or hat to protect the skin on your scalp. Consider wearing a wig.

Constipation

Medications, especially pain medications, can cause constipation. Eat whole grain foods and drink plenty of fluids to avoid constipation. Staying active with exercise is also a good way to prevent this side effect.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea can occur with certain cancer treatments. If you have diarrhea, then avoid caffeine, alcohol, spicy or fatty foods, and large meals. Replenish lost fluids with juice, broth, water, or a replacement fluid.

Pain

Opioids may be ordered to control pain or discomfort. They include:
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone and acetaminophen
Opioids act on the central nervous system to relieve pain. These drugs can be effective. They may cause dependence, resulting in increased doses to obtain the same pain relief. If you are going to take one of these drugs for a long period of time, then your doctor will closely monitor you.
Percocet is a combination medication. An opioid and acetaminophen used together may provide better pain relief than either medication used alone. In some cases, lower doses of each medication are necessary to achieve pain relief.
The most common side effects of opioids include:
  • Constipation
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
Special Considerations
If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:
  • Take the medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
  • Plan ahead for refills if you need them.
  • Do not share your prescription medication with anyone.
  • Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.

References

Cancer pain. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/pain/index. Accessed December 29, 2015.
Cancer pain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated. December 21, 2015. Accessed December 29, 2015.
Chemotherapy and you. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf. Accessed December 29, 2015.
Opioids for chronic cancer pain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 10, 2015. Accessed December 29, 2015.
Radiation therapy and you. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/radiationttherapy.pdf. Accessed December 29, 2015.
Side effects. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects. Updated April 29, 2015. Accessed December 29, 2015.
6/25/2008 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Thomas J, Karver S, Cooney GA, et al. Methylnaltrexone for opioid-induced constipation in advanced illness. N Engl J Med. 2008;358(22):2332-2343.

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