Today there are more treatments than ever to manage advanced cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (CSCC). These therapies are very good at slowing the cancer and prolonging the lives of people who have it. But they come with some side effects.
Fatigue, nausea, skin changes, and weakness are just a few of the problems you may experience while on one of these treatments. Tell the doctor who treats your cancer about any side effects you have from your treatment. They may be able to adjust your dose or recommend ways to relieve symptoms.
Meanwhile, here are 12 tips to help you feel better if you’re experiencing side effects from your cancer treatment.
Ask your doctor if you can lower your dose of immunotherapy or chemotherapy without affecting your outcome. Sometimes reducing the amount of medication you take can cut back on side effects.
Exercise might be the furthest thing from your mind right now, but it could help you feel better. Regular moderate aerobic activities like walking or bike riding give you more energy. Add in strength training sessions a couple of times a week to rebuild muscles weakened by surgery.
If the surgery to remove your skin cancer was done close to a joint, you may have tightness and difficulty moving the affected area afterward. Your doctor can prescribe physical therapy to help get your muscles, ligaments, and tendons moving smoothly again.
Physical therapy can also strengthen muscles weakened by surgery. Doing exercises and stretches with a physical therapist may help with pain, too.
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, and with good reason.
An acupuncturist uses thin needles, heat, or pressure to stimulate various points throughout your body. Acupuncture may help with side effects such as:
- dry mouth and tiredness from radiation therapy
- nausea, vomiting, and fatigue from chemotherapy
- pain relief from nerve damage
- appetite loss
- pain and swelling in the mouth and throat
Look for an acupuncturist who is licensed and has experience treating people with cancer. Avoid acupuncture if you have a low white blood cell count, because you may be at higher risk of infection.
A gentle massage can help with both the pain and stress from cancer. If you have lymphedema — enlarged lymph nodes after surgery — a special massage technique called lymph node drainage can help bring down swelling in the affected arm or leg.
Go to a licensed massage therapist who has training and experience caring for people with skin cancer. Ask your oncologist for a referral. Let the massage therapist know where on your body your cancer was, so they can avoid it during the massage.
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of both radiation and chemotherapy. If you usually eat three large meals a day, switch to having several small ones. Smaller portions are easier for a sensitive stomach to handle.
Choose bland foods like crackers and dry toast. Drink extra water and other fluids to prevent dehydration.
If dietary changes and other lifestyle interventions don’t ease your nausea, ask your doctor about taking an antiemetic drug. These medications calm your stomach so you can keep food down. They come as pills, liquids, patches, and suppositories.
Cancer treatment can change the way foods taste, or make it harder for you to eat. A dietitian will help you plan meals with foods that are easier for you to tolerate and suit your changing nutritional needs.
Both cancer and its treatments can exhaust you. Chemo and radiation treatments can also make you feel drowsy.
Plan times throughout the day to take short breaks or naps. Make sure to sleep for no more than 30 minutes at a time. Napping too much during the day can make it harder for you to fall asleep at night.
Cemiplimab-rwlc (Libtayo) is the only drug approved specifically to treat advanced CSCC. It can cause several side effects, including skin reactions like a rash or blisters. Your doctor can treat these problems with corticosteroid medication.
Staying out of the sun is especially important once you’ve had skin cancer. Going indoors or wearing sun protection when you’re outside can prevent you from getting another cancer.
Sun exposure can also affect the healing of your surgical wounds. The sun can cause your scars to become raised or discolored, making them even more noticeable.
The emotional side effects of cancer treatment are less obvious than the physical ones, but they’re just as distressing. Getting treated for an advanced cancer can cause worry, depression, and anxiety. Surgery to remove the cancer can lead to body changes that negatively affect your self-esteem.
Surround yourself with people who support and care about you. Join a support group for people with your type of cancer. You’ll meet people who understand exactly what you’re going through because they’ve been through it themselves.
Share any worries you have with your cancer care team. If you feel overwhelmed, see a therapist or other mental health professional for guidance.
Treatment side effects can be difficult to manage, but it’s important to continue with your therapy. Stopping your treatment too early could allow your cancer to grow and spread. Instead, talk to your doctor about ways to manage treatment side effects.