Managing Cancer Treatment Side Effects

Chemotherapy targets cancer cells. However it can also damage healthy cells causing unpleasant side effects. Some of the most common side effects are nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue and mouth sores. Here are ways to help you prevent or lessen some of the side effects throughout your chemotherapy treatment.

Anxiety / Stress Management

  • Spend some time in nature
  • Listen to relaxing music
  • Take a walk with a friend
  • Try yoga or meditation
  • Join a support group
  • Try acupuncture or massage
  • Take time for hobbies and do what you enjoy
  • Speak with a counselor about other stress management tools you can use
  • Go to our stress management class


Sleep Problems

  • Be physically active during the day
  • Avoid caffeine
  •  Learn progressive muscle relaxation or other stress management techniques
  •  Try chamomile tea prior to bed time
  • Use your bed for only sleep and sex
  • Keep the bedroom dark No TV!
  • Try gentle yoga


Depression/ mood problems

  • Practice meditation
  • Learn relaxation tools
  • Try yoga
  • Acupuncture, massage and music therapy can be helpful
  • Try healing touch
  • Be physically active
  • Join a support group
  • Speak with your physician if you feel overwhelmed or like things are not getting better
  • Manage your stress (see above)


Decrease in general quality of life and physical functioning

  • Practice meditation or guided imagery
  • Try acupuncture
  • &Try qigong—a meditative type of movement
  • Try a reflexology massage
  • Be physically active—do what you enjoy!
  • Try yoga
  • Manage your stress



  • Let your doctor know about pain issues
  • Try massage or healing touch
  • Music therapy can be helpful
  • Pay attention to sleep patterns
  • Be physically active
  • Try acupuncture
  • Music therapy can be helpful


Hot flashes

  • Try acupuncture
  • Avoid hot beverages
  • Try vitamin e 800 IU twice daily
  • Be physically active
  • Try magnesium oxide 400 mg daily



  • Meet your basic calorie needs, stay hydrated
  • Prepare large quantities when feeling well and freeze leftovers
  • Avoid eating foods high in sugar
  • Eat snacks high in protein
  • Try acupuncture, daily walks
  • Ask if American ginseng may be helpful for you as a supplement



  • Drink ½ ounce per pound of body weight of clean water
  • Drink liquids 30 min after meals, not during
  • Eat potassium-rich foods, such as bananas
  • Eat sodium-rich foods
  • Avoid drinking milk and milk products
  • Avoid high-fiber foods
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Try laying down 30 minutes after meals to slow digestive tract
  • Try sipping blackberry leaf tea
  • Add one teaspoon of Metamucil to a glass of water daily—this soluble fiber soaks up excess fluid



  • Eat high-fiber foods
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day
  • Drink 8-10 cups of clear liquid a day
  • Eat a breakfast that includes a hot drink and high fiber foods
  • Drink a warm liquid 30 minutes before normal bowel movement time
  • Drink ½ cup of warm prune or pear juice
  • Slowly add high-fiber foods to your diet Increase fluid with increasing fiber
  • Eat at the same time each day to regulate bowel movements
  • If gas is an issue, limit drinks and food that cause gas
  • Avoid drinking with a straw
  • Try to increase your physical activity



  • Eat small meals often and eat slowly
  • Eat foods at room temperature or cooler
  • Drink beverages that are cool or chilled
  • Snack on dry foods
  • Avoid foods that are fried, greasy, sweet, spicy, or that have a strong odor
  • Sit upright when eating and rest upright for at least one hour after meals
  • Sip on clear liquids frequently to prevent dehydration
  • Avoid eating in a room that is too warm, or that has cooking odors
  • Rinse your mouth with baking soda and salt before and after meals (1 quart water, ¾ teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon baking soda)
  • If there is a bad taste in your mouth, suck on hard candy
  • Avoid drinking a lot of liquids during mealtime
  • Avoid eating for one or two hours before a treatment
  • Try bland, soft foods on scheduled treatment days
  • Avoid stuffy environments and restrictive clothing
  • Try natural supplements, such as ginger and peppermint extract
  • Use acupressure Ask us for a chart that shows where to press. You can obtain wrist bands at a local pharmacy
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation



  • Sit upright and bend forward after vomiting
  • Don’t eat or drink until your vomiting is controlled
  • Once vomiting is under control, try drinking small amounts of clear liquids Examples: cranberry juice, cool broth or flat soda
  • Try eating small amounts of soft foods such as cream of wheat, pudding, frozen yogurt or gelatin when you are able to keep down clear liquids
  • Gradually work your way back to your regular diet
  • Eat several small meals a day instead of three large meals
  • Eat high-protein foods first in your meal while your appetite is strongest – foods such as beans, chicken, fish, meat, yogurt and eggs
  • Eat your largest meal when you feel hungriest, whether that’s at breakfast, lunch or dinner
  • Try acupressure (see nausea, above)


Loss of appetite, weight loss, under nutrition

  • Eat several small meals a day instead of three large meals
  • Eat high-protein foods first in your meal while your appetite is strongest – foods such as beans, chicken, fish, meat, yogurt and eggs
  • Eat your largest meal when you feel hungriest, whether that’s at breakfast, lunch or dinner
  • Keep food interesting
  • Keep favorite foods and high-calorie foods and beverages around the house or your environment during the day
  • Drink blended drinks like milkshakes and smoothies, liquid or powdered commercial nutritional supplements Click here for a copy of our healthy smoothie sheet
  • Eat before any physical activity


Feeling full quickly

  • Eat small meals throughout the day, keeping healthy between-meal snacks on hand
  • Fortify your meals with calorie-rich, nutritious foods
  • Avoid fried or greasy foods
  • Avoid foods that give you gas
  • Drink beverages between meals rather than during meals, so you feel less full while eating
  • Rest after meals with your head elevated
  • Drink blended drinks (milkshakes, smoothies), liquid or powdered commercial meal replacement beverages to boost calories and nutrients Click here for a copy of our healthy smoothie sheet


Weight gain

  • Concentrate on healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans and other foods that are naturally low in calories and high in fiber to help you feel full
  • Pay attention to portion sizes, checking food labels and the serving sizes listed
  • Love what you eat Include and savor foods that you enjoy most so you feel satisfied
  • Eat only when you’re hungry
  • Try to get regular physical activity, which can help manage your weight and relieve your fatigue Eat soon after your session of physical activity
  • Try not to eat within 3 hours of going to sleep and eat your largest meals early in the day  


Fluid retention

  • Drink plenty of water unless you have been specifically advised by your doctor to limit fluids – ½ ounce per pound of body weight of clean water
  • Eat less salt and foods with less sodium such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and unsalted or reduced-sodium snacks and soups
  • Replace processed foods such as cold cuts, which can be high in sodium, with alternatives
  • Stay as physically active as possible
  • Elevate your legs when resting
  • Drink a healthy smoothie!


Food aversion

  • Avoid eating your favorite foods when you know you are likely to feel sick That way you will enjoy your favorites during times you’re feeling well
  • Remember that your food aversion will pass In the meantime, focus on eating healthy foods you do like


Taste changes

  • Choose foods that appeal to you
  • If the taste of red meat is now less appealing, find healthy alternatives, such as chicken, turkey, fish, beans, nut butters, eggs or dairy products
  • Marinate meats in juice, teriyaki sauce, barbecue sauce, Italian dressing or other flavorful liquid you find appetizing
  • Add small amounts of lemon juice or maple syrup to some foods, which may decrease salty, bitter or unpleasant tastes
  • Serve foods cold or at room temperature, which may improve how they taste
  • Try sour candies
  • Brush your teeth and tongue and rinse your mouth regularly
  • Rinse your mouth several times a day with water or a baking soda mixture


Dairy/milk intolerance

  • Milk or lactose intolerance occurs with whole, 2%, 1%, and skim milk – avoid dairy milk, which contains the protein casein For more information about milk and cancer, read “the china study”
  • Try small portions yogurt or cheese to see if you can tolerate them
  • Try calcium-fortified non-dairy drinks and foods, which you can identify by food labels, such as almond, rice or soy milk
  • Eat more calcium-rich vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach, arugula and collard greens
  • It is recommended that during your cancer treatment you avoid cow’s milk


Sore mouth, tongue, and throat

  • Prepare easy-to-swallow foods Try a healthy smoothie daily!
  • Cook foods until they are soft and tender and cut them into small pieces, or choose foods you can mash, blended or purée
  • Serve foods cool or at room temperature
  • Drink through a straw
  • Avoid alcohol, which can irritate the cells lining your mouth
  • Rinse your mouth several times a day with water or a baking soda mixture
  • Use a soft toothbrush
  • Remove your dentures if your gums are sore, except while eating, and keep your dentures clean
  • Don’t smoke
  • Tell your doctor immediately if your gums bleed during treatment, or if you see small white patches in your mouth



  • Most often, your doctor will recommend the following:
  • Antifungal medication
  • These suggestions may help during an outbreak of oral thrush:
  • Eating unsweetened yogurt
  • Taking acidophilus capsules or liquid
  • Practice good oral hygiene
  • Try warm saltwater rinses Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of warm water Swish the rinse and then spit it out, but don't swallow


Dry mouth

  • Stimulate saliva by sucking on lemon-flavored sugar-free candies, frozen grapes or sugarless popsicles; sucking on ice chips or cubes; and trying tart foods and beverages, such as lemonade, in small amounts
  • Opt for easy-to-swallow, moist foods such as those with broth, gravy, sauces and salad dressings
  • Avoid salty foods and alcohol
  • When drinking beverages: sip through a straw, and drink thick drinks such as fruit nectars at room temperature or colder
  • Use a moist air humidifier in your bedroom at night


Difficulty swallowing

  • Eat small, frequent meals
  • Purée foods, or thin out mashed foods using broth, gravy, milk or water
  • Take deep breaths before trying to swallow, and exhale or cough after swallowing
  • Drink a healthy smoothie daily
  • Drink plenty of fluids, aiming for eight 8-ounce glasses a day
  • Liquids at room temperature may be easier to swallow
  • Drink beverages between rather than during meals so you don’t feel full too quickly


Tooth decay

  • See your dentist before starting treatment, especially if you have a history of tooth or gum problems, to help prevent infection or other problems
  • See your dentist regularly – more often than usual if you’re receiving treatment that affects the mouth (such as radiation to the head and neck) Inform your dentist about all medications you are taking
  • Use a soft toothbrush Or, if your gums are sensitive, clean your teeth with cotton swabs or mouth swabs made especially for this purpose
  • Rinse your mouth with warm water when your mouth and gums are sore Also, rinse your mouth if you have vomited to remove acid
  • Limit excess sugar and sticky/sweet foods in your diet unless you are experiencing poor appetite or difficultly maintaining your weight
  • Brush or rinse your mouth after each time you eat
  • Ask your doctors if fluoride trays are needed after treatment