After treatment(TREET-MINT) — Techniques to help eliminate or control a disease is complete, many patients will struggle with continued side effects. Some resolve pretty quickly—within weeks to months. Other side effects can last over a year and sometimes become permanent. Long-term side effects depend on the medications used. However, a few common long-term side effects include numbness and tingling (neuropathy(NER-OP-AH-THEE) — Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet), fatigue, depression, joint pain, and occasionally problems with osteoporosis(AH-STEA-O-POOR-O-SIS) — The weakening of the bones or the heart.
Additionally, cancer treatment commonly affects sexual function. For women, treatment can cause postmenopausal(POST-MEN-A-PAUSE-OL) — When a women has not had a menstrual period for 12 months and it is not expected to resume symptoms. As a result, a woman may experience hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and a loss of sex drive. For men, some will lose testosterone and can develop hot flashes. Depression, anxiety, neuropathy, and medication can affect sexual function, too.
During your regular office visits, your doctor can help you understand and deal with these (and other) long-term problems. He or she may have medications or simple tips to help you cope and feel better.
Along with the physical side effects, patients also face some emotional struggles. They ask themselves: Why did this happen to me? Why don’t I feel the same? What’s next? What should I do now? Will my cancer come back?
It is very common for patients to worry that every ache and pain might be their cancer coming back, especially in the first few months to years after treatment. Over time, these feelings of fear should get better. With that said, it is completely normal to have “flashes of fear” or increased anxiety as routine checkups near.
Most cancer survivors experience depression and anxiety. After all the intense treatment is over, there often is a letdown. Surprisingly, some patients become more anxious or depressed after treatment is completed because they no longer feel like they are actively fighting their cancer. If you have trouble sleeping, this could be a sign or cause of depression.1 If you’re feeling down, tearful, or anxious, medication can be very beneficial. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the options.
The after-effects of being diagnosed with cancer can result in fear of cancer recurrence (FOCR)The development of fear or worry that cancer will return following the completion of treatment and (when severe) a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)A mental health condition that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event that causes intense negative feelings.2 PTSD is a mental health condition that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. PTSD can vary from mild to severe and can happen to any patient. The most important thing to remember is that PTSD is not a sign of weakness.
Just remember, if your worrying is interfering with your daily life, seek help from family, friends, or your medical team. People are there to support you and care about you—you might just need to ask for it!
- NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Survivorship (Version 2.2016). National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/survivorship.pdf. Accessed February 14, 2017.
- Voigt V, Neufeld F, Kaste J, et al. Clinically assessed posttraumatic stress in patients with breast cancer during the first year after diagnosis in the prospective, longitudinal, controlled COGNICARES study. Psycho-Oncology. 2016;26(1):74-80.