Managing other cancer-related symptoms

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There are many symptoms that you may have as a result of cancer treatment. Find out about some of the more common symptoms and how to manage them.

Key points

  • Symptoms you may have as a result of cancer treatment include mouth sores, thrush, skin problems, weight loss or gain, and hair loss.
  • Talk to your health-care team if you think you have any of these symptoms as they will be able to help you manage them.

As you go through treatment, you may notice other symptoms that are related to your cancer treatment. These symptoms include mouth sores, thrush, skin problems and weight loss or gain.

Mouth sores (mucositis)

Mouth sores are caused by some chemotherapy medications and radiation therapy focused on the head and neck area. The sores are usually red, painful areas in the mouth and throat (and sometimes throughout your digestive system).

To help prevent mouth sores, it’s important to take good care of your mouth. Make sure you brush daily to avoid teeth and gum issues. You’ll probably be sent to a dentist as part of your treatment.

If you already have mouth sores, your team may prescribe a special mouth wash that can help numb the irritated tissues. You can also adjust your eating and drinking habits to ease any discomfort. For example, cold food such as popsicles can help. Drinking through a straw will also minimize how much of your drinks come in contact with the sores in your mouth.

When it comes to eating, choose soft foods that are easy to chew. You might crave strongly flavoured foods if the things you like now taste different, spicy or sour foods may make the pain from mouth sores worse.


A mouth infection called thrush can develop when your immune system is weakened. Thrush looks like white pasty patches on your tongue, inside of your mouth and throat. It can also be quite painful and may make it harder for you to swallow.

If you develop thrush, your team will probably prescribe a special mouth wash to kill the infection. It’s important to use this mouth wash as often as prescribed!

Follow the food tips for mouth sores if eating is painful.

Skin problems

If you’re being treated with radiation, you may notice some changes to your skin.

You may also experience skin peeling or dryness if you are having chemotherapy. This can be quite painful. It’s so important to let your healthcare team know this is happening, as they can help you manage it.

If your skin feels very dry, there are creams that can help. Medications can help with any itchiness. Before you try anything, though, talk to your health-care team about what you want to use.

Make sure you keep your skin clean and dry. If you tend to sweat, wear breathable cotton clothing to help keep you dry. It’s very important to avoid extreme temperatures – don’t let yourself get too cold or hot. Make sure you dress for the weather!

Radiation and chemotherapy make your skin much more sensitive to UV rays, so you’ll need to stay out of the sun and cover up! You need to use a sunscreen with SPF 50 or higher, even if you have darker skin. Remember to wear sunscreen and cover up on cloudy or rainy days too.

Weight loss or weight gain

Because so many side effects will affect what you eat and how you feel after eating, you may find that you start to lose some weight. Your health-care team will keep track of how much you weigh at each appointment and will make sure that you don’t lose too much.

You may also find that some of the medications you take (steroids mostly) may make you gain weight, sometimes only in one area of your body. For instance, sometimes people get a "moon face" from steroids, meaning their face has a rounder shape. These effects are not usually permanent, but they can be very upsetting when you’re used to looking a certain way. The section on body image has tips on how to cope with these changes.

Keeping a healthy, balanced diet will help your energy levels and help with any weight loss or gain. Unfortunately, some symptoms, such as the moon face because of steroids, cannot be helped. The good news is that it should go away when the drugs are stopped. If you’re worried, speak to your dietitian for more information.

Hair loss

Hair loss is often the most feared side effect of cancer treatment. There is no way around it –it will probably happen.

There are many things you can do to cope with hair loss such as using a hat, colourful scarf, or wig. The section on body image has other tips and suggestions on what might work for you!

Last updated: September 3rd 2019