There are 3 standard mesothelioma treatment forms: surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. While the goals of these treatments are to extend your life and reduce your discomfort they all can create some unpleasant side effects.
Some of the possible mesothelioma surgery side effects:
- Appetite loss
- Swelling at the surgery site
- Drainage from the surgery site
For mesothelioma radiation, the side effects include:
- Reddening or darkening of the skin around the treatment site
- Hair loss around the treatment site
- A sore throat
And, finally, mesothelioma chemotherapy has the following side effects:
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Nausea and vomiting
- Appetite loss
- Increased chance of infection
- Easy bruising and bleeding
The above lists are not exhaustive. After treatment, you can get different side effects, and there are other forms of mesothelioma treatment that have their side effects as well. However, it is important to point out that while these side effects can be quite harsh, they can also be managed.
Managing Mesothelioma Treatment Side Effects
Your mesothelioma doctor and treatment team will be able to help you manage some of your side effects, specifically the ones that require medication or can be managed with medicine. For example, your doctor can prescribe you pain medications or creams, anti-diarrhea medicine or anti-nausea medication to help alleviate some of your discomforts.
It’s important to speak with your doctor about any side effects that you are experiencing so that your treatment plan can be adjusted as needed. All mesothelioma treatment plans are tailored to the individual and managing side effects is a part of your doctor’s plan for you.
Below are methods for managing the most common sets of mesothelioma treatment side effects.
Nausea and Vomiting
In addition to taking antiemetics (drugs that prevent nausea), you can cope with nausea and vomiting by making and maintaining some lifestyle changes:
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Avoiding certain foods such as ones that are greasy, fried, sweet or spicy
- Trying acupuncture
- Practicing other relaxation practices such as deep breathing, hypnosis or reading a book
Loss of Appetite
If you are experiencing a loss of appetite, there are several ways to manage. Even if you don’t feel like eating, it’s essential to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Although you need to drink lots of liquids, it’s important to note that you don’t have to drink it all at once. If you are incredibly nauseous, you can take small sips of water every couple of minutes to maintain your hydration level.
Other strategies include ensuring that the foods you do eat are healthy and high in nutrients. If it’s difficult to eat a full meal in one sitting, try splitting your large meals up into 6 smaller ones throughout the day. Staying active, even if it only means taking a short walk every day, is also a good way to help stimulate your appetite.
If you are experiencing hair loss, you can manage it by treating your hair gently:
- Use a soft bristled brush
- Avoid hair dryers and hair gels
- Wash your hair less frequently
- Pat your hair dry with a soft towel
- Cut your hair off
- Buy a wig or wear a scarf or turban
The most important part of managing hair loss is to talk to someone about your feelings, especially if you’re dealing with embarrassment, anger or depression. These are completely natural and valid feelings and talking to someone who can relate to what you’re going through can help you find meaning and acceptance in the process.
Another one of the common mesothelioma treatment side effects is fatigue, which has several different strategies to help manage it. For example, you can plan to take naps throughout the day, participate in some light exercise to boost your energy levels and continue to eat well.
Furthermore, if your fatigue is caused by unmanaged pain, you can speak with a specialist who can help you learn how to manage your pain more effectively.
How Mesothelioma Treatments Affect the Body
Mesothelioma treatments produce side effects because the treatments themselves work hard on the body to eliminate all or most of mesothelioma cells. By nature, mesothelioma cells are resilient and very difficult to kill off so they require harsh treatments that are strong enough to stop the cells from multiplying.
While researchers are discovering better ways to increase the effectiveness of these treatments in targeting the mesothelioma cells, all three methods do damage to, destroy or remove healthy cells and tissue around the tumor, which can cause the above complications and side effects.
Reporting and Discussing Side Effects
Before you undergo treatment, it’s a good idea to discuss any possible side effects with your mesothelioma doctor. Many people just accept side effects as part of the deal of undergoing treatment, but it doesn’t necessarily have to stay this way. Your healthcare team might have some more specific suggestions based off of your overall health and your particular mesothelioma diagnosis.
After you have undergone different treatment forms, you’ll start to identify the types of side effects that affect you personally. It’s essential for you to report any changes and side effects to your healthcare team immediately. This will allow you to get the additional treatment and pain management you need to improve your quality of life so you continue your fight against mesothelioma.