Brain & Spinal Cord Cancers

Text Size A A

E-Mail to a Friend






secret  Click to Play Audio


Managing the Side Effects of Treatment

The following are common side effects of brain and spinal cord cancer treatment.

Fatigue
Fatigue is often described as feeling tired, weak, exhausted, and worn-out. It is a common side effect of radiation and chemotherapy. Sleep does not always relieve fatigue.

Throughout the day, fatigue can be managed by pacing activities with rest periods. Planning rest periods in advance of feeling fatigue is a good way to manage fatigue. Taking a short nap can help because long naps may interfere with nighttime sleep. Another way to manage fatigue is to ask others for help with activities.

Fatigue can last for a few weeks to many months. It is important to take care of yourself during this time and not be frustrated. Daily exercise can also help manage fatigue. You can take short walks or do more intense activity. Stimulant medicines like amphetamines are sometimes prescribed to help with fatigue. The cause of cancer-related fatigue is not clear. Let your health-care team know you are feeling fatigue so that other causes of fatigue can be evaluated.

Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea or vomiting can occur with radiation and chemotherapy treatment. There are many medications that can help and are commonly prescribed. Be sure to tell your health-care team if you are having nausea or vomiting so medication can be prescribed for you.

Sometimes avoiding spicy and heavy foods can help. An SCCA nutritionist can give advice on managing nausea and vomiting as well. If you are losing weight, it might be important for you to take a nutritional supplement. It is important to eat nutritious, well-balanced meals during your treatment. Sometimes it can be helpful to eat several smaller meals throughout the day. It is also healthy to drink plenty of fluids.

Hair Loss
Hair loss may occur with radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Hair loss occurs because radiation and chemotherapy affect all the fast growing cells in your body, which includes cancer cells, and hair cells or follicles. Hair may begin to grow back once chemotherapy treatments have ended. For people receiving radiation treatment, hair often does not grow back. If hair does grow back it may look different either in thickness (usually thinner), color, or texture. We realize dealing with hair loss can be hard. There are resources that can help with managing hair loss. See our Beauty Wigs Hair Loss Resources.pdf for a list of helpful resources.

Skin Irritation
Your skin can become irritated from exposure to radiation as well as certain kinds of chemotherapy. For example, targeted therapies like Tarceva or Sutent. It is important if you are receiving radiation therapy to use the creams and lotions provided by the treatment team. Avoid lotions that contain alcohol or perfume as this will dry out your skin. Regular lotions may cause irritation by the radiation. Take short baths or showers because long baths and hot showers may be irritating and cause skin dryness. It is important during treatment to protect yourself from sunburn. When you go outdoors, wear a cap or scarf and long sleeves to protect yourself from the sun. Check with your health-care provider to see if you can use a sun screen.

Short-Term Memory Loss
Some people experience memory loss during or after radiation treatment. This memory loss is usually for events that have happened recently. Long-term memory of years ago does not seem to be affected. Keeping track of things can be helped by using a calendar and a notebook with questions and a to-do list. It is important to let friends, family, and your health-care team know if you are having memory loss.

Seizures
Seizures are often a symptom of brain cancer. Additionally, seizures can occur from the treatments used to treat brain cancer. Seizures occur when there is a burst of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain. This can occur from the brain cancer or from surrounding normal brain tissue being irritated. If these electrical bursts happen in motor parts of the brain, there may be a burst of uncontrolled muscle activity. This may include muscle contractions of the arms and legs, or loss of consciousness. Seizures are usually treated with medications called anticonvulsants. Side effects of these medications may include drowsiness, rash, and cognitive slowing.