The 6 Most Common Long-Term Side Effects of Cancer Treatment—and How to Alleviate Them


Ask anyone who has experienced cancer treatment: sometimes the hardest aspects of cancer are dealing with side effects from therapy itself. The good news is that the most common side effects:

  • tiredness,
  • nausea and vomiting,
  • diarrhea,

are often temporary. However, people receiving chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation may also experience:

  1. itch,
  2. rashes,
  3. hair loss,
  4. nail thinning,
  5. skin infections,
  6. and cracking skin,

which can be chronic unless treated. Also, many people must continue to work through their treatment and don't want to look sick while they are sick.

You might initially dismiss these symptoms as annoyances rather than real problems. And in fact, many of these side effects are indications that the treatment is working.

Most people don't want to come across as a patient who is easily annoyed or quick to complain, but these side effects can become severe if not treated early.

Our Medical Advisory Board believes that it is important to treat any skin, hair or nail problems early on—even when mild—thereby preventing side effects when possible.

We recommend letting your doctor know if you're experiencing any changes to your body after starting therapy; there are prescription and non-prescription products designed to treat these specific issues.

You may be wondering....

Why are skin, hair, and nails so sensitive to cancer treatment?

Popular treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation, are designed to target and destroy fast-growing cancer cells. Unfortunately,

these treatments can’t tell the difference between fast-growing cancer cells and fast-growing healthy cells.

That’s why many people experience side effects like hair loss, itching, rashes or severe skin dryness.

Skin sensitivity, dryness, and rashes are often controlled with the use of:

  • corticosteroids,
  • antibiotics,
  • creams,
  • and managing your environment—keep your skin hydrated by avoiding heat and adding humidifiers to your home.

Paying attention to and reporting these changes to your doctor can be critical to your care. Read more about taking care of your skin during and after treatment here.

What about hair?

Did you know that you don't have to lose your hair during cancer treatment? There are many strategies to manage hair loss, including:

  • cold caps,
  • minoxidil,
  • and if you do lose your hair, there are wigs, hats, scarves, turbans, and sprays

Although these side effects may be mildly annoying when they occur for a short time, many of them can last for weeks or months, affecting your quality of life and in some cases, your overall health.

While you may need to undergo cancer treatment, you don’t have to ‘simply deal’ with the discomfort of these side effects. There are many effective ways to prevent and manage these symptoms so they do not disrupt your quality of life or interfere with your treatment. Talk with your doctor to see how you can reduce or prevent these side effects altogether.


Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD
If you are a person living with cancer, you may experience changes in your skin, hair or nails. There are many effective ways to prevent and manage these side effects so they don't disrupt your life or interfere with treatment.
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