Do What You Can to Ease Side Effects From Treatment and Symptoms of Kidney Cancer
If you're being treated for kidney cancer, it’s likely that you will have physical concerns since your cancer may cause symptoms and you may have side effects from your treatment. In this article, you’ll learn more about how to respond to some of the most common symptoms and side effects. The information is listed in alphabetical order:
Anxiety and depression
Many people feel blue, anxious, or depressed after being told they have cancer. These feelings are normal and may continue or come back throughout treatment. In addition, you may experience mood changes as a side effect of treatment, such as biological therapy. These changes in mood may be barely noticeable or very obvious to you or your family and close friends. Seek immediate help if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms:
Taking these actions may ease your mental stress:
People who eat well during cancer treatment maintain their strength better, are more active, and are better able to lower their chance of infection. It’s important to remember that your body needs energy to heal itself. Maintaining your weight is a good way to know if you’re giving your body the energy it needs. When you’re being treated for cancer, a diet high in calories and protein is best.
The problem is that treatment, especially chemotherapy, can damage intestinal cells or affect areas of the brain that control appetite. Radiation can change the way food tastes to you, make it hard for you to swallow, or reduce your appetite.
Know that some people, however, can gain weight as a side effect from steroids or antinausea medications. If this is the case for you, focus on getting a balanced diet and increasing your activity level. Now is not the time to go on a restrictive, weight-reduction diet.
Ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian if you are having trouble maintaining your appetite. Also, try these tips to stimulate your desire to eat:
If you can, eat foods high in protein several times a day. These foods include milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, eggs, beans, peanut butter, and nuts. Protein helps build and repair tissue, and cancer treatments cause you to use more protein than usual.
If you are underweight, you can eat high-calorie foods to help you maintain your weight, such as margarine or butter, sugar, honey, jams, jellies, cream cheese, dried fruit, gravies or sauces, mayonnaise, and salad dressing.
In addition to water, fruit juices, and other liquids, try these foods to increase your intake of fluids: gelatin, pudding, soups, fruit bars, and ice cream.
Keep healthy snacks handy, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese sticks, or whole grains, to eat when you are hungry.
Certain kinds of cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, may reduce your blood platelet count. Your doctor and nurse will tell you if the treatment you’re receiving will affect your platelet count. Without enough platelets, your blood may have difficulty clotting and lead to a problem called thrombocytopenia. If your doctor tells you that your platelet count is low, take these actions to avoid causing injuries that could lead to uncontrolled bleeding:
Bloating and swelling
Some chemotherapy and biological therapy drugs cause your body to retain water. This water retention will go away when your treatment ends. Sometimes, cancer can cause your body to retain water. In other cases, bloating may be due to lactose intolerance caused by the cancer. This is a condition where the body can’t digest or absorb the milk sugar called lactose. Tell your doctor and nurse about your side effects so that they can help you adjust your diet or recommend medications that will help.
Here’s what you can do for relief:
Breathing problems (shortness of breath or dyspnea)
There are many causes of shortness of breath in people with cancer. Some of these, such as a blood clot in the lungs or pneumonia, need to be treated right away. Breathing problems can also be a side effect of the biological treatment for kidney cancer, interleukin-2. If you develop breathing problems, you should let your doctor know right away.
Feeling short of breath may make you feel anxious, which can make breathing problems worse. Talk with your doctor or nurse about what can help. Also try these tips:
Avoid things that make your breathing worse, such as high humidity, cold air, pollen, and tobacco smoke.
Constipation, which is difficult or infrequent bowel movements, can range from mildly uncomfortable to painful. Taking pain medications can lead to constipation so it’s wise to take these preventive actions. It can also result from chemotherapy. These same steps will give you relief if you are already constipated:
Eat foods high in fiber, such as cereals, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
A persistent cough may increase pain, prevent adequate rest, and promote fatigue. Talk with your doctor about these options for relief:
Diarrhea, which is loose or frequent bowel movements, may lead to dehydration if you don’t take these precautions. Radiation and many chemotherapy drugs can cause bowel changes. These tips may help:
Avoid gas-producing vegetables, dried fruit, fiber cereals, seeds, popcorn, nuts, corn, and dried beans.
Eat low-residue, low-fiber foods such as those used in the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast).
Fatigue, or a feeling of tiredness, is a common symptom and side effect. It can be the result of anemia caused by a low level of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. If your body does not have this oxygen, you may feel tired. A decreased red blood cell count can be caused by small amounts of blood loss, by the cancer itself, or by biological therapy, chemotherapy, or radiation. Other changes in your blood count can also cause fatigue. Tiredness can last four to six weeks after treatment ends. You may feel only slightly tired or you may suffer from extreme fatigue.
Taking these actions may help increase your energy level:
Take action to treat a poor appetite because eating improperly can make you tired. And as long as diarrhea isn’t a problem for you, it may help to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates, such as whole wheat bread.
Hair loss (alopecia)
Losing your hair can be upsetting because baldness is a visible reminder that you are being treated for cancer. Chemotherapy may cause you to lose hair all over. Radiation can cause hair loss in the area treated. Keep in mind that your hair will probably grow back after treatment.
Try these coping tips:
Think about getting a wig, hat, or scarf before your hair loss starts. That way, you can get a wig that matches your hair and you’ll be ready with head coverings, if you choose to use them.
Without enough white blood cells, your body may not be able to fight infection. Many types of cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, can cause a low white blood cell count, which is called leukopenia. This may also be a side effect from immunotherapy for kidney cancer. You may experience symptoms of infection, such as fever, chills, or inflammation at the site of an injury.
If your doctor tells you that your white blood cell count is low, take these actions to stay healthy:
Call your doctor right away if you have any of these signs of infection: a temperature of 100.5 degrees or higher, severe chills, a cough or hoarseness, lower back or side pain, painful or difficult urination, or any sores or redness. Have a family member or friend take you to the emergency room if these symptoms are severe.
Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
Insomnia can be caused by anxiety, depression, or your cancer treatment.
Use these tips to improve your rest:
Some types of chemotherapy can damage the ovaries or cause menopausal symptoms in women who’ve not yet reached menopause. They include symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and weight changes. Periods may become irregular or stop, and you may not be able to get pregnant. However, some women may still be able to get pregnant during treatment. Consider these tips to improve your symptoms:
Discuss with your doctor ways to manage menopausal symptoms, such as using lubricants for vaginal dryness, doing mild exercise, and talking with an accredited psychotherapist about mood swings or signs of depression.
Sores on your mouth and lips, called mucositis, may hurt and make eating an unpleasant experience. Radiation and several types of chemotherapy cause mouth sores. Radiation to your chest or neck may also cause dry mouth called xerostomia. In addition to mouth sores, you may experience a strange taste in your mouth from biological therapy. Taking these actions can either help prevent or ease some of these problems:
Nausea or vomiting
Nausea or vomiting may result from almost all types of treatment for kidney cancer. It may be barely noticeable to severe. Understanding the different types of nausea may help:
Anticipatory nausea and vomiting. This is learned from previous experiences with vomiting. As you prepare for the next dose of chemotherapy, you may anticipate that nausea and vomiting will occur as it did previously, which triggers the actual reflex.
To prevent nausea, take these actions:
To help ease nausea or vomiting, try these tips:
Try eating foods and drinking beverages that made you feel better when you have had an upset stomach or have been nauseated in the past. These may be bland foods, sour candy, pickles, dry crackers, ginger ale, flat soda, or others.
Nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy)
If you have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hands and feet, you may have nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy. Some types of chemotherapy are known to cause this. Other signs of this problem are ringing in your ears or trouble feeling hot or cold.
If you have symptoms such as these, take precautions to protect yourself:
Bone pain can be the result of biological therapy, such as interferon-alpha, for kidney cancer. Try these tips to ease muscle, joint, or bone pain:
Use heat, cold, relaxation techniques (such as yoga or meditation), or guided imagery exercises. Ask your doctor or nurse where you can learn more about these.
If you are recovering from surgery, expect to be somewhat uncomfortable for a few days but medicine should control the pain. Discuss the pain-control plan with your doctor. Ask to make adjustments after surgery, if necessary.
If you are following your recommended pain management regimen and your pain still isn't controlled, alert your medical team. You may need an adjustment in the amount or type of your pain medication or a referral for a more in-depth pain assessment.
Changes in sexual desire
Feelings of depression from having cancer or fatigue from many types of treatment can have a negative impact on your sexual desires. Taking these actions may help you cope with these changes:
Radiation treatment can cause dry or red skin in the area being treated. Also, you may have dryness, itching, or a rash in the area of biological therapy injections. Here’s what you can do for relief:
Ask your doctor or nurse what kind of lotion you can use to moisturize and soothe your skin. Don’t use any lotion, soap, deodorant, sunscreen, perfume, cosmetics, or powder on your skin for two hours after treatment.
To prevent injection-site problems, rotate the injections to a different spot on the body each time.
Trouble thinking and remembering
You may have mild problems with concentration and memory during and after chemotherapy or biological therapy. Fatigue can aggravate the problem. Taking these actions may help:
Tell your medical team about any cognitive changes. Your team can assess any cognitive concerns and suggest treatments that can help you and your family manage the changes.
Some treatments for kidney cancer may cause changes in urination. For instance, taking the biological therapy interleukin-2 for kidney cancer may cause an unusual decrease in urination. Chemotherapy may cause burning with urination. Also, remember that drinking adequate fluids every day will help you: