Do What You Can to Ease Side Effects of Treatment for Esophageal 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 symptoms and side effects from treating esophageal cancer.
Here are some common side effects from treatment for esophageal 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 counts)
Throughout your treatment, your doctor will test your blood. One thing he or she is checking 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 or radiation, or by the cancer itself. Tiredness is also a very common symptom and side effect from surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. You may feel only slightly tired, or you may suffer from extreme fatigue. Fatigue can sometimes last for weeks or months after treatment ends.
Taking these actions may help increase your energy level:
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:
This may be a side effect of chemotherapy or some pain medicines. Constipation, which includes difficult or infrequent bowel movements, 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 may also give you relief if you are already constipated:
Drink plenty of fluids, especially water and prune juice.
Eat foods high in fiber, such as cereals, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Take stool softeners or a laxative only as prescribed by your doctor.
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 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).
Many factors may make eating, drinking, and swallowing difficult. The cancer and related tightening of the esophagus, surgery, radiation therapy, and photodynamic therapy can all cause this side effect.
Take these actions to feel better:
Dry or irritated skin
This may be a side effect of radiation therapy.
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 after radiation treatment without asking your doctor or nurse first because they may cause irritation.
Losing your hair is called alopecia. It can be upsetting because baldness is a visible reminder that you are being treated for cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation 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.
Mouth sores (mucositis)
Some types of chemotherapy and radiation therapy 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:
Avoid hot, rough, or spicy foods because they may irritate the sores. Chilled, bland, and soft foods may be easier to swallow.
Nausea or vomiting
Nausea or vomiting as a result of surgery, 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. These 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:
Your doctor may want you to use an IV or feeding tube for receiving fluids, nutrients, and medications, especially if you had surgery.
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 may be bland foods, sour candy, pickles, dry crackers, ginger ale, flat soda, or others.
Neutropenia (low white blood cell levels)
Throughout your treatment, your doctor will test your blood. One thing he or she is checking is your white blood cell count. Many types of chemotherapy can cause low white blood cell counts, as can the cancer itself. Without enough white blood cells, your body may not be able to fight infection. If your doctor tells you that your white blood cell count is low, take these actions to stay healthy:
Call your doctor right away if you have any of these signs of infection: a temperature of 100.5°F (38.1°C) or higher, severe chills, a cough, pain, a burning sensation during urination, or any sores or redness.
Numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in your hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)
If you have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hands and feet, you may have nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy. This can be a side effect of chemotherapy. Other signs of this problem are ringing in your ears or trouble feeling hot or cold. If you have symptoms such as these, take the precautions to protect yourself:
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: