Do What You Can to Ease Side Effects of Treatment for Vaginal Cancer
Anemia (low red blood cell levels)
Your doctor will take blood samples for blood tests throughout your treatment. One thing he or she is checking for is your red blood cell count. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. If your body doesn't have enough oxygen, you may feel tired. Decreased red blood cell counts can be caused by small amounts of blood loss due to bleeding, chemotherapy, radiation, or by the cancer itself.
If your doctor tells you that you have anemia, take these actions to feel better:
Anxiety and depression
Many people may feel blue, anxious, or distressed after being told they have cancer. These feelings are normal and may continue or come back throughout treatment. Taking these actions may ease your mental stress:
People who eat well during cancer treatment are more likely to maintain their strength, are more active, and are better able to fight 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 are giving your body the energy it needs.
When you're being treated for cancer, a diet high in calories and protein is usually best. The problem is that side effects of treatment, especially chemotherapy, can make you not want to eat. Some chemotherapy treatments can change the way food tastes to you. If this is the case, focus on getting a balanced diet and increasing your activity level. Ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian if you are having trouble with your appetite or your weight.
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.
To maintain your weight, eat high-calorie foods, such as 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 keep your bowels moving. In addition to water, fruit juices, and other liquids, try gelatin, pudding, soups, fruit bars, and ice cream.
Eat small meals throughout the day instead of three large ones.
Keep snacks handy to eat when you are hungry.
Eat with friends or play your favorite music at mealtime to boost your appetite.
Eat your biggest meal in the morning. Many people getting treatment for cancer find that this is when their appetite is greatest.
If you can, increase your activity level. Doing so may boost your appetite.
On days you don't feel like eating at all, don't worry about it. Try again the next day. If you find your appetite doesn't improve in several days, talk with your doctor or nurse.
This may be a side effect of chemotherapy or some pain medicines. Constipation may include difficult or infrequent bowel movements. It can range from mildly uncomfortable to very painful. Taking pain medications can lead to constipation, so it's wise to take these preventive actions before you have problems. 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.
This is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Diarrhea, which includes loose or frequent bowel movements, or both, may lead to dehydration if you don't take these precautions. Many drugs can cause bowel changes:
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).
Dry or irritated skin
This may be a side effect of radiation therapy:
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 before or after radiation treatment because they may cause more irritation.
Losing your hair (called alopecia) can be upsetting because baldness is a visible reminder that you are being treated for cancer. Chemotherapy can cause hair loss. Keep in mind that your hair will most likely grow back after treatment (though it may look different than it did before).
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.
A hot flash is also called a hot flush. It is a sudden rush of warmth to the face, neck, upper chest, and back--with or without sweating. It can last for a few seconds to an hour or more. Hot flashes can occur with chemotherapy. Some women have mild symptoms, while others have more severe ones. In many cases, hot flashes stop when treatment stops. To ease them, try these tips:
Your doctor will take blood samples for blood tests 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. A decrease in your white cell count is called leukopenia. Neutrophils are a special subtype of white blood cells that help stave off infection. If your neutrophil levels are low, you are neutropenic. Without enough white blood cells, including neutrophils, your body may not be able to fight infections.
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 F (38 degrees C) or higher, severe chills, a cough, pain, a burning sensation during urination, or any sores or redness.
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 a woman's ovaries. Or it may cause menopausal symptoms in women who've not yet reached menopause. These symptoms include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and weight changes. Periods may become irregular or may stop, and you may not be able to get pregnant. For some women, the loss of a menstrual period is permanent:
Talk with your doctor about ways to manage menopausal symptoms, such as using lubricants for vaginal dryness, exercising, and talking with a therapist about mood swings or signs of depression.
Also see hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and weight changes.
It's normal to experience emotional changes, both during and after cancer treatment. Even if cancer treatment is successful, many people experience fears about what the future holds. Talk with your doctor or nurse about ways to manage these changes and try these tips:
Mouth sores (mucositis)
Some types of chemotherapy may cause mouth sores. These may hurt and make it hard to eat.
To prevent sores in your mouth, take these actions:
To ease the pain if you get sores in your mouth, take these actions:
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 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 help prevent nausea, take these actions:
Ask your doctor about getting a prescription medicine to control nausea and vomiting. Then, make sure you take it as directed. If you are vomiting and cannot take the medicine, call your doctor or nurse.
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've had the flu or were nauseated from stress. These might be bland foods, sour candy, pickles, dry crackers, ginger ale, flat soda, or others.
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. Other signs of this problem are ringing in your ears or trouble feeling hot or cold. If you have symptoms such as these, your doctor may adjust the dose of your chemotherapy. Or your doctor may prescribe medicine or certain vitamins that may help relieve your symptoms. You should also take these precautions to protect yourself:
You may have pain following surgery. Try these tips to ease pain:
Use heat, cold, or relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or guided visualization. Ask your doctor or nurse where you can learn more about these.
Having vaginal cancer affects a woman's sexuality. The vagina often becomes less elastic following radiation, making intercourse painful. Surgery (partial vaginectomy) may change the size and shape of the vagina, making intercourse uncomfortable. If you have scars, it might affect how you feel about yourself or about how you experience sexual pleasure. If you have a partner, you might be afraid of how your partner will react to these changes. Talk to your partner and doctor or nurse about your concerns.
Whether the changes are short term or long lasting, you can find ways to feel good about yourself and to be intimate with a partner. Remember to be patient and give yourself time. Be creative. Below are some ideas on how to cope with these changes:
Explore different ways of showing love, such as hugging and holding, stroking and caressing, or talking.
If your doctor removes lymph nodes from your groin, you may have swelling in your legs or genital area. This is more likely if you also have radiation therapy to this area. Swelling may occur right after surgery, or it may happen much later. It is caused when excess lymph fluid collects in tissue. Swelling can also lead to pain and fatigue.
To reduce your risk or to reduce swelling, take these actions:
Watch for signs of infection, such as redness, pain, heat, swelling, and fever. Call the doctor immediately if any of these signs or symptoms appears.
To avoid injury and infection in your leg or vagina, take these precautions:
Thinking and memory problems
You may have mild problems with concentration and memory during and after systemic chemotherapy. Being tired can make this worse.
Taking these actions may help:
Tiredness is a very common symptom and side effect from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. You may feel only slightly tired or you may suffer from extreme fatigue.
Taking these actions may help increase your energy level. Fatigue can last for months after treatment ends:
You may have problems with urination following radiation therapy. This could lead to bladder spasms and frequent, urgent, or burning urination. Trouble controlling the flow of urine is called incontinence:
Keep track of your symptoms so you can report them to your doctor. This might include how frequently you urinate, how many incontinence pads you use, and the kind of activity that leads to incontinence.
Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages because caffeine causes the kidneys to make more urine and irritates the bladder. Spicy or acidic foods, such as orange juice, may also irritate the bladder so try to avoid them.
Vaginal dryness and other vaginal problems
Vaginal dryness and discharge can result from having a hysterectomy, which leads to menopause. In addition to vaginal dryness, lowered estrogen levels may cause women to have vaginal thinning and difficult or painful intercourse. Vaginal infections may also occur more often. When you talk with your doctor about these problems, make sure he or she knows you've had cancer. Try these methods to ease symptoms:
See your gynecologist about any unusual vaginal discharge or other symptoms that do not go away.
Weight gain may partly be a result of going into early menopause following treatment with chemotherapy or removal of ovaries. Take these actions to help manage your weight:
Increase the amount of your daily exercise. Strive to be active every day.
Eat a balanced, low-calorie diet.
Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat. Drink more water. These can help fill you up--and are good for you--without adding a lot of calories.