Managing Cancer Treatment Side Effects Survivors Experience

Unfortunately, side effects are a common occurrence for patients who undergo cancer treatment. In some cases, the side effects are considered “late side effects,” meaning they don’t occur until months or even years after treatment has ended. Other times, they are considered “long-term,” in that they were present during treatment but haven’t gone away now that treatment is over. As you move down the path toward recovery, your cancer care team and Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC) will be right there with you, helping you better manage either type of side effect should you experience them.

Late and Long-term Side Effects Survivors May Experience

As a cancer survivor, you may not be entirely free from residual effects of your illness. In fact, you may experience cancer- or cancer-treatment-related side effects long after cancer treatment ends. The specific late- and long-term side effects that you may experience as a cancer survivor will depend on various factors such as: 

  • The type and location of the cancer you had
  • Your family history
  • Your age and physical condition during treatment
  • Any non-cancer-related health problems you have
  • The type(s) of cancer treatments your received, including dosages of medications and/or radiation 

Late- and long-term side effects cover a broad spectrum. While some side effects are physical, others affect you emotionally. Examples of these side effects include: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Infertility and/or early menopause
  • Anxiety, depression, and fear of recurrence 
  • Trouble breathing or other lung issues
  • Digestive issues such as chronic heartburn, diarrhea, and constipation
  • Brain changes, which could include memory loss and problems concentrating 
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision issues, including dry eye, sensitivity to light, and trouble seeing at night
  • Bone, joint, and tissue changes such as osteoporosis, joint pain, and loss of motion in joints, such as your jaw, shoulders, hips, or knees
  • Heart problems, such as abnormal heart rhythm, high blood pressure, and heart muscle weakness
  • Dental problems such as dry mouth, cavities, gum disease, or bone loss in the jaw
  • Secondary cancers such as skin, breast, or thyroid cancers
  • Growth, development, and hormonal problems (especially among prepubescent cancer survivors)
  • Peripheral Neuropathy, a set of symptoms caused by damage to nerves that control the sensations and movements of our arms, legs, hands, and feet.

Talking With Your Oncologist 

As both a cancer patient and cancer survivor, it is very important that you have a conversation with your RMCC oncologist about what to expect regarding late- and long-term cancer treatment effects. The type of cancer treatment you received will play a big role in what you should keep an eye out for. We encourage you to consider scheduling an appointment very soon so you can discuss these things with your care team. Be sure to take notes or bring someone who can take notes for you.

We recommend keeping a detailed list of all of the cancer treatments and dosages you received in a safe place. Your RMCC cancer care team can provide that list for you upon request. Should you develop late side effects months or years down the road, this list can help your doctor provide a quicker diagnosis and treatment plan.

Other questions to consider asking your oncologist or cancer care team can include:

  • Is there anything I can do to reduce the likelihood of developing these late side effects?
  • Are there specific warning signs should I watch out for, and when should I see a doctor?
  • Can you explain the differences between possible cancer or cancer-treatment “side effects” to watch for versus cancer “symptoms” that might indicate my cancer may have returned?
  • Considering the cancer treatments I received, should I be monitored by any medical specialists (like an optometrist or cardiologist) who can watch for late side effects?

The New Normal for a Cancer Survivor

At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, we understand that cancer is a life-changing experience—one that can linger well into the future due to late- and long-term side effects. Again, we encourage you to have an open conversation with your cancer care team about what you might experience down the road. By doing so, you’ll be able to identify potential cancer treatment side effects so they can be checked out promptly by your doctor.