Do What You Can to Ease Side Effects of Treatment for Kaposi Sarcoma
It’s likely that you will have physical concerns since your cancer may cause symptoms and your treatment may cause side effects. In this section, you’ll learn more about how to respond to some of the most common symptoms and side effects from treating Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS).
Here are some common side effects from treatment for KS and how to ease them. You may not have all of these. We’ve listed them in alphabetical order so you can find help when you need it.
Anemia (low red blood cell levels)/tiredness and fatigue
Tiredness is a common symptom and side effect from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. It is also a symptom of anemia, which is a low red blood cell count as noted from blood tests. Or it can be caused from a B12 vitamin or iron deficiency, which your doctor may also find in a blood test. Whatever the cause, you may feel only slightly tired or you may suffer from extreme fatigue.
Your doctor will take blood samples from you for tests throughout your treatment. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. If your body does not have this oxygen, you may feel tired. Decreased red blood cell counts can be caused by small amounts of blood loss, chemotherapy, or radiation.
If your doctor tells you that you have anemia, take these actions to feel better:
Add mild exercise, such as walking, to your daily routine.
Balance activity with rest. Save your energy for important tasks.
Drink plenty of water. Dehydration adds to fatigue.
Take action to treat a poor appetite because eating improperly can make you tired.
Take short rests when you’re tired. Avoid long naps during the day so that you can sleep well at night.
If your fatigue is severe or chronic, ask for help with routine tasks that can drain your energy, such as grocery shopping or housework. Some people reduce their hours at work.
Talk with your doctor about medications or treatments that may help manage your anemia.
Anxiety and depression
Many people may feel blue, anxious, or distressed after being told they have cancer. These feelings may continue or come back throughout treatment.
Taking these actions may ease your mental stress:
This may be a side effect of chemotherapy or some pain medicines. Constipation may include difficult or infrequent bowel movement. It can range from mildly uncomfortable to painful. Taking pain medications can lead to constipation, so it’s wise to take these preventive actions. These same steps may give you relief if you are already constipated:
Drink plenty of fluids, especially water and prune juice.
Eat foods high in fiber, such as cereals, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Take stool softeners or a laxative only as prescribed by your doctor.
This may be a side effect of chemotherapy. Diarrhea, which includes loose or frequent bowel movements, or both, may lead to dehydration if you don’t take these precautions:
Avoid gas-producing vegetables, dried fruit, fiber cereals, seeds, popcorn, nuts, corn, and dried beans.
Eat low-residue, low-fiber foods, such as those included in the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast).
Severe drowsiness may be a side effect of chemotherapy or immunotherapy. It may get better after several weeks of treatment. If you notice this, talk with your doctor about options for relief. These may include adjusting the dose you take or changing the time of day that you take the drug. Don’t change your schedule without your doctor’s instructions to do so.
Dry or irritated skin
This may be a side effect of radiation therapy or other treatments:
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, sun block, cologne, cosmetics, or powder on your skin within two hours after treatment because they may cause irritation.
Don’t apply heat or cold to the treated area. Bathe only with lukewarm water.
Don’t bandage skin with tape. If you must bandage a wound, use paper tape, and ask your nurse to help you place the dressings so that you can avoid irritation.
Don’t scratch, rub, or scrub treated skin. After washing, gently blot dry.
If you must shave the treated area, use only an electric shaver. Don’t use lotion before shaving. And don’t use hair-removal products.
Keep your nails well trimmed and clean.
Protect your skin from sun exposure by covering it up and wearing sunscreen with a SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30.
Wear loose, soft clothing over the treated area. Cotton underwear can help prevent further irritation.
Losing your hair can be upsetting because baldness is a visible reminder that you are being treated for KS. Chemotherapy and radiation can cause hair loss, which is called alopecia. 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.
Because chemotherapy can reduce the number of white blood cells in your body, it can decrease your body’s ability to fight off infection.
Taking these actions may reduce your risk of infection:
Take a warm bath, shower, or sponge bath every day. Do not use harsh bath products, such as skin scrubs. Do not rub your skin too hard with washcloths or towels.
Call your doctor right away if you have any of these signs of infection: a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, severe chills, a cough, pain, a burning sensation during urination, or any sores or redness.
Loss of appetite
Eating well during cancer treatment can help you maintain your strength, stay active, and lower your chances of infection. When you’re being treated for cancer, a diet high in calories and protein is often best. The problem is that side effects of treatment can change the way food tastes to you or reduce your appetite. 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 can, eat high-calorie foods to help you maintain your weight. These foods may include margarine or butter, sugar, honey, jams, jellies, cream cheese, dried fruit, gravies or sauces, mayonnaise, and salad dressing.
Get plenty of fluids to help control your body temperature and improve food elimination. In addition to water, fruit juices, and other liquids, eating certain foods can help increase your fluid intake. These foods include gelatin, pudding, soups, Popsicles, and ice cream.
Mouth sores (mucositis)
Some types of chemotherapy may cause mouth sores. These may hurt and make eating an unpleasant experience.
To prevent sores in your mouth, take these actions:
Brush your teeth after meals and before bedtime; floss every day if this is something you normally do and if you have your doctor's permission.
Keep your mouth and lips clean and moist.
Use sugar-free candies or gums to increase moisture in your mouth.
To ease the pain if you get sores in your mouth, take these actions:
Call your doctor or nurse if your temperature reaches 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Nausea or vomiting
Nausea or vomiting as a result of chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer may range from barely noticeable to severe. It may help you to understand the different types of nausea:
Anticipatory nausea and vomiting. These reactions are 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, most of which can be prevented, take these actions:
To help ease nausea or vomiting if you have it, try these tips:
Try eating foods and drinking beverages that were easy to take or made you feel better when you had the flu or were nauseated from stress. These might be bland foods, sour candy, pickles, dry crackers, ginger ale, flat soda, or others.
Neutropenia (low white blood cell levels)
Your doctor will take blood samples from you throughout your treatment. One thing he or she is checking for is your white blood cell count. Many types of chemotherapy can cause low white blood cell counts, as can the cancer itself. A lowered white cell count is called neutropenia. Without enough white blood cells, your body may not be able to fight infection.
If your doctor tells you that your white blood cell count is low, see the Infection section above to learn what you can do to help yourself stay healthy.
Numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in your hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)
If you have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your hands and feet, you may have nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy. This can be a side effect of chemotherapy or immunotherapy. Other signs of this problem are ringing in your ears or feeling hot or cold. If you have symptoms such as these, your doctor may adjust your dose. Or your doctor may prescribe medicine or some vitamins. You should also take these precautions to protect yourself:
Thinking and remembering problems
You may have mild problems with concentration and memory during and after chemotherapy. Being tired can make this worse.
Taking these actions may help:
Weight gain may be a sign of damage to your thyroid, which can be a side effect of immunotherapy. Take these actions to help manage your weight: