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Cancer can spark many feelings—shock over the diagnosis, fear of the unknown, uncertainty over the future, a feeling that you’ve lost some control. These emotions can quickly lead to anxiety and stress, causing headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, insomnia and other symptoms.
Cancer and its treatment can bring many changes that affect how the body looks, feels and performs. Weight fluctuations, hair loss, scars, protruding tumors, missing body parts, swelling and changes in physical abilities and bodily functions are just some examples. Any of these issues can impact a patient’s self-image.
Some cancers and cancer treatments can cause disruption in a patient’s digestive tract that can lead to constipation and diarrhea, which are common side effects of treatment. Medications, therapeutic interventions and changes to your diet help mitigate these symptoms.
Headaches impact cancer patients for a variety of reasons. They may result from some cancers, particularly brain tumors that cause increased intracranial skull pressure, or from chemotherapy treatments, radiation therapy to the brain and some immunotherapies. The level of pain varies from patient to patient, but some headaches can be debilitating.
Immobility, often marked by muscle weakness, stiffness or pain, can be a side effect of cancer and some treatments. Although different treatments require various degrees of bed rest, an inability to move can cause serious complications that may inhibit patients’ ability to keep up their treatment regimen.
Emotional intimacy and a satisfying sex life are important concerns for couples affected by cancer. Anti-cancer treatments and the disease itself can impact sexual function and desire. Both can break communication and cause intimacy problems that impair quality of life.
Loss of appetite is particularly common among patients treated for certain cancers and receiving chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation treatments. It can lead to weight and muscle loss, and a condition called “wasting syndrome,” which has serious implications for general health and recovery.
Malnutrition is defined as insufficient or imbalanced consumption of nutrients that sap patients’ strength and weaken their immune system. Many cancer-related symptoms can lead to malnutrition, including the loss of appetite, changes in taste or smell, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, depression and nausea. Cancer treatment can also hamper the body’s ability to absorb the right nutrients.
Mucositis is a common cancer treatment side effect that can cause painful mouth sores and inflammation, which can lead to difficulty swallowing and speaking, weight loss, malnutrition, abdominal pain, rectal ulcers, diarrhea and increased risk of infection.
The loss of sensation in the extremities can be debilitating and lead to other complications, including safety implications. Numbness may be caused by brain and spinal cord tumors and by cancer-related peripheral neuropathy nerve damage. It may also develop as a result of malignant plasma cells and acute lymphocytic leukemia, and can be a sign of prostate cancer and advanced-stage lung cancer.
Peripheral neuropathy is a common neurological side effect of cancer and its treatment, especially chemotherapy and other anti-cancer drugs. Marked by numbness, pain and muscle weakness, especially in the extremities, it can significantly impact patients’ quality of life and may lead to additional complications.
One common side effect of radiation therapy changes the skin around the treatment area, including itchiness, dryness, swelling, peeling and often-painful red marks that look and feel like sunburns. These “burns” are caused when ionizing radiation interacts with skin cells and makes it difficult to grown new layers of skin quickly.
Cancer treatment can result in altered sensory perceptions, including taste and smell deficiencies that may lead to changes in diet and appetite and, ultimately, weight loss or malnutrition. Maintaining an optimal body weight and a healthy appetite is important in helping cancer patients stay strong enough to tolerate treatment.
Balance problems range widely, from light-headedness to dizziness and vertigo. Poor balance may result from certain cancers, especially in the brain, or medicinal interventions such as chemotherapy drugs or pain medications. It can lead to significant injury and quality-of-life issues.
Cancer patients often respond to their diagnosis with a sense of loss and despair. But when the feelings linger, they may lead to depression, which can impact their ability to participate in treatment, and interfere with their recovery and quality of life.
Dry mouth is a common side effect of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The condition can cause discomfort, thirst and hoarseness, making it difficult for patients to swallow or digest food, speak or maintain adequate oral hygiene. This may leave them prone to infection.
Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer and its treatments, especially for patients in pain or undergoing a combination of treatments. Typically, it comes on suddenly, does not result from activity or exertion, and is not relieved by rest or sleep. Treatments may require a variety of approaches.
Hot flashes are waves of heat that spread throughout the body, often brought on suddenly. A common cancer-related side effect, especially for patients treated for breast, ovarian or prostate cancer, hot flashes can lead to excessive sweating and discomfort and can greatly affect quality of life.
Cancer patients often experience chronic sleeplessness, also known as insomnia, which can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. This condition can lead to fatigue, memory and concentration problems, and mood disturbances.
Lymphedema describes the swelling that occurs when lymph nodes are removed or damaged, often as treatment for certain cancers, especially breast cancer. Lymph fluid builds up in fatty tissue just under the skin, creating painful and sometimes-debilitating edema, especially in the extremities.
Disruptions to memory and cognition often impact cancer patients, especially those undergoing chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiation therapy treatments. Symptoms may last for months after treatment and range from difficulty with word recall and multitasking to getting lost or forgetting important appointments.
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of cancer treatment, particularly targeted radiation therapy and chemotherapy. These digestive disruptions may impact the patient’s quality of life and delay treatment. Nausea and vomiting can also lead to other physical issues, including malnutrition and dehydration.
Many cancer patients experience varying levels of pain, from the disease or the tests and treatments used to diagnose and fight it. Pain also may lead to additional side effects, including nausea and fatigue, making symptom management key to quality of life.
Cancer treatments that alter taste or smell may impact a patient’s appetite, leading to weight loss. Digestive issues caused by cancer treatment may also affect a patient’s ability to ingest sufficient nutrients to sustain normal body function. Significant weight loss can delay or interrupt treatment.
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that gently applies fine, sterile needles to specific areas of the body.
Chiropractic care focuses on disorders of the muscular, skeletal and nervous systems and how these disorders impact general health. It may be used to relieve pain and stiffness in the joints and muscles.
Mind-body medicine uses psychosocial support or therapeutic relationships as an integral part of whole-person care that recognizes the powerful ways emotional, mental, social and behavioral factors can directly affect a cancer patient’s health.
Naturopathic medicine provides therapies to help with side effects, immune function and quality of life, including herbal remedies and dietary supplements.
Nutrition therapy is designed to help prevent or correct malnutrition, restore digestive health and provide dietary supplements, homeopathic remedies and other therapeutics.
Oncology rehabilitation uses a wide range of therapies to rebuild strength and endurance and restore quality of life. It includes physical, occupational, massage, manual and speech therapies and other techniques.
Pain management is a medical field focused on reducing pain and improving quality of life, at any stage of cancer, by using prescription medications, implanted pain pumps, nerve block therapies and other techniques.
Nurturing your faith can help you better cope with the challenges associated with cancer. Spiritual support may include individual or group prayer, spiritual counseling, worship services, classes or other services.
Cancer isn't easy.
Integrative care can help.
“Many patients underestimate how dramatically cancer can affect them, physically and emotionally. An integrative approach to cancer care treats the disease with surgery, chemotherapy and other tools, while also supporting patients’ strength, stamina and quality of life with evidence-informed therapies.”
— Dr. Stacie Stephenson CTCA Chair of Functional Medicine
To help patients reduce treatment delays or interruptions and
get the most out of life.
Up to 80% of adults living with cancer are malnourished.
65% of patients take a natural supplement during treatment.
1 in 3 cancer patients continues to experience pain after treatment.
At diagnosis, 1 in 2 patients has some form of nutritional deficit.
At least 7 in 10 cancer patients undergoing treatment experience fatigue.
Fewer than 1 in 5 patients receives spiritual support from a doctor.
Integrative care has two layers. First, conventional treatments attack the disease itself. At the same time, evidence-informed therapies help combat cancer-related side effects. The two together, conventional cancer treatments and supportive therapies, delivered simultaneously by a collaborative team of clinicians—that’s integrative cancer care.
treatments to attack the disease
Evidence-informed supportive therapies to combat
cancer-related side effects
Delivered simultaneously by a collaborative
team of clinicians
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs in an effort to slow or stop rapidly dividing cancer cells from growing. It may be delivered by mouth as a pill or liquid, by IV infusion in a vein, as a cream applied on the surface of the skin, as an injection or through a lumbar puncture or device placed under the scalp.
Chemotherapy treatments are used against a number of cancer types, either as a primary treatment to destroy cancer cells; in combination with other treatments to stop cancer cell growth; before another treatment to shrink a tumor; after another treatment to destroy remaining cancer cells; or to relieve the symptoms of advanced cancer.
Cancers are as different as the people diagnosed with them, driven according to the DNA encoded in their cells. Genomic testing examines tumors at the cellular level, identifying the molecular abnormalities that are dictating how they grow and behave. This allows oncologists a better understanding of the complexities of each patient’s cancer. It may also help them identify cancer treatment therapies that have been used to target changes in the genomic profile of similar tumors. Often called precision cancer treatment, genomic testing is the standard of care for a number of cancers. But advanced genomic testing, which take the assessments a step further, are only recommended to patients in certain circumstances.
Hormones are chemical messengers produced in endocrine glands such as the thyroid, pancreas, the ovaries in women and testicles in men. For some cancers, such as breast and prostate, hormones may encourage cancer cell growth. But they can also kill other types of cancer cells, or slow or stop them from growing. Hormone therapy, a systemic therapeutic approach, targets the body’s hormones—by adding, blocking or removing them from the body—in an attempt to slow or stop cancer cell growth. This form of treatment often involves medications designed to starve cancer cells of the hormones they need to grow. Or it may involve the surgical removal of glands that produce hormones.
Sometimes, cancer forms when the immune system breaks down or malfunctions. Also called biological therapy or biotherapy, immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, either by stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells or providing it with antibodies or other tools to combat it. Monoclonal antibodies, for example, are manmade versions of immune system proteins that can be designed to attack a specific part of a cancer cell. Cancer vaccines, on the other hand, are designed to trigger the immune system to counteract certain cancer cells. Non-specific immunotherapies stimulate the immune system to increase a certain activity that discourages cancer cell population or growth.
Radiation therapy uses targeted energy, such as with X-rays or radioactive substances, to destroy cancer cells, shrink tumors and alleviate cancer-related side effects. A number of radiation therapy methods are used against a broad range of cancer types. External beam radiation therapy, for example, directs radiation from a machine outside the body to cancer cells within the body. Internal radiation therapy places radioactive material, through a catheter or other device, directly into or near a tumor. With systemic radiation therapy, a radioactive substance is swallowed or injected, then travels through the blood to locate and destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be used as a primary or secondary treatment, or in combination with other treatments.
Surgical oncology is a vast anti-cancer treatment field consisting of many platforms, devices and technologies. Surgery is the oldest form of cancer treatment and is also used to diagnose and stage cancer, and to manage a number of cancer-related symptoms. In terms of extracting tumors, for example, surgery may range from a lumpectomy to amputation or organ removal. Surgery may also be used as a diagnostic tool—through a biopsy, for example. And it can be used to reconstruct the body, such as after a mastectomy. For many patients, surgery is combined with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which are used either pre- or post-operatively.
This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), integrative care is at the heart of what we do. We provide personalized, state-of-the-art cancer care in a welcoming environment, so you and your family can focus on healing. At CTCA®, you’ll receive continuous care from a dedicated team of cancer experts, including oncologists, surgeons and other clinicians—all under one roof.
Each of our five hospitals provides diagnostic testing, treatments and supportive therapies in one location, delivering care that is as efficient and convenient as possible.
Each CTCA patient has a dedicated team of cancer experts assigned to his or her care. Each member of the care team meets individually with the patient, and collaborates regularly with one another, to design an individualized plan, monitor patient progress and make adjustments when necessary.
At CTCA, our oncologists, nurses, clinicians and other cancer experts are highly trained, educated and experienced in treating cancer at any stage. Cancer care is all they do.
Cancer impacts everyone involved. Our support programs are designed for patients and caregivers alike, offering tips, tools and resources to help you and your loved ones throughout the cancer care journey.
No two cancer patients, and no two cancers, are exactly the same. At CTCA, every patient’s care plan—from treating the cancer to managing related side effects—is designed to meet his or her specific needs.
Our state-of-the-art hospitals use leading-edge technologies, advanced diagnostics such as genomic testing and cutting-edge treatments to diagnose, stage and aggressively treat cancer.
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