The side effects of cancer

Updated: Aug 18

When we talk about the side effects of cancer we tend to think of the physical side effects of treatment of which there are plenty but there are other side effects of cancer as well.


Part of the difficulty in recovering from cancer is the emphasis of cancer and recovery is placed on the medical treatment and outcome. The side effects of cancer in other areas of life are not as readily acknowledged or supported. These side effects go on to impact relationships, friendships and the work place.


The time around diagnosis and treatment for cancer is often turbulent and the desire to survive will take over the need to address the side effects of cancer which may not become fully obvious at this time. Doctors are trained in the functionality of the body and because the emotional side effects of cancer are not life threatening the impact is not always addressed during medical appointments. However if the side effects of cancer aren’t addressed they remain causing side effects until they are.


I experienced many physical side effects of cancer and these included:

  • Medical menopause (including hay fever and asthma)

  • Osteoporosis

  • Stiff and sore joints

  • Scarring

  • A mouth so full of ulcers I couldn’t talk

  • Fatigue

  • Weight gain

  • Loss of fertility

  • Hair loss

The physical side effects of cancer impacted my emotions creating:

  • Anger

  • Depression

  • Fear

  • Anxiety

  • Helplessness

  • Powerlessness

  • Loneliness

  • Guilt

The emotions changed my life and I became:

  • Isolated

  • Withdrawn

  • Lost my confidence

As I physically and emotionally recovered my life changed to have:

  • Zero tolerance for things that irritate or stress me

  • Different life goals and values

  • Acceptance of death

  • A much better quality of life

Each of the physical side effects of cancer had an emotional impact on me which affected my life in some way. Some were short term and some were life changing, each needed to be worked through for me to recover from cancer. Although I knew I was angry, depressed, lonely and isolated I didn’t know why or how to recover from these.


I found it hard to find the right support to meet my unique needs and often this was at charity level. I wish the side effects of cancer other than the physical risks and changes had been talked about more during my diagnosis and treatments. I also wish there had been clear sign posting to where these could have been addressed, instead I was left with a well meant leaflet and phone number. At the time I was so emotionally affected by cancer I didn’t have the capacity to take that step and ask for support. I wish one of the gazillion medical appointments I had had been with a mental health professional who could have assessed and supported me. I didn’t need a leaflet and phone number, I needed a friendly and understanding face who checked up on me and understood what I was experiencing.

In the UK cancer costs billions of pounds to treat as well as lost productivity while people recover from cancer. Cancer is a physically and emotionally life changing event which needs professional physical and emotional support to recover from. The side effects of cancer run far deeper than the physical treatment. If there was greater awareness and emphasis of the emotional aspect and impact of cancer and this was supported alongside physical diagnosis and treatment the impact cancer has later on would be reduced.

What physical and emotional side effects did you have with cancer? How did this impact and then change your life?




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