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Cancer Treatments and Side Effects

The type of treatment a patient gets depends on the type of cancer they have and how advanced it is. Doctors may recommend a single approach or a combination of treatments – each situation is unique. But each treatment has side effects, from nausea and pain to hair loss and exhaustion. This overview can help you understand what a mom undergoing cancer treatment is experiencing, give her children an idea of what is happening – and help support the family through the cancer journey.


Treatment Description Side Effects


Surgery tends to be most effective when there’s a solid tumour and the cancer hasn’t spread beyond one area. Doctors can remove an entire tumour or reduce it (remove as much as possible).


Pain, limited range of movement, risk of infection, dietary restrictions, constipation from pain medication, fatigue, sleep disturbances.




High doses of radiation are used to kill cancer cells and reduce tumors. It can eradicate cancer, prevent it from coming back, stop or slow the growth of tumors, or ease cancer symptoms. It may be used before or after surgery. Fatigue, anemia, hair loss, memory/concentration difficulties, changes in ability to taste or smell, difficulty swallowing, fertility complications, blistered or dry skin, sleep disturbances, urinary/bladder problems.


Chemotherapy Chemicals are used to destroy cancer cells and stop more from growing. Chemotherapy is used to shrink tumors before surgery or radiation, to stop it from coming back after surgery or radiation, to treat cancer that has spread, or as an independent treatment.


Anemia, mouth sores, nausea, hair loss, risk of bleeding or bruising, constipation, edema (buildup of fluid in the body), fatigue, memory or concentration difficulties, early onset menopause, fertility complications, blistered or dry skin, dark, yellow or cracked nails, sensitivity to the sun, sleep disturbances, urinary or bladder problems.


Hormone therapy


Slows or stops the growth of hormone-related cancers. It can be used before or after surgery and in combination with other treatments.


Hot flashes, early onset menopause, nausea, mood changes, fatigue.





Stem cell transplant


This procedure restores the blood-forming stem cells destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy or radiation. This can help the body recover its ability to produce stem cells, and combat cancer in cases of lymphoma and leukemia. Risk of infection, rejection of donated stem cells, fatigue, suppressed immune system.




Is a type of cancer treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer. It uses substances made by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function.


Mouth sores, skin reactions, flu-like symptoms, high or low blood pressure, headaches, weight gain, diarrhea, hormone changes, cough, muscle aches.