Managing the effects of cancer and treatment

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Managing the effects of cancer and treatment

Side effects are problems you may get because of your cancer and treatment. These effects depend on the type of treatment you have and can range from mild to severe. Information in this section may support with some of those problems.

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Macmillan - Side effects of cancer treatment

Managing stress and learning to relax

Feeling fearful, anxious or panic is common when dealing with a cancer diagnosis. This is often increased when waiting for test results, treatment and appointments at the hospital.

Learning to relax and doing activities that help you relax can help reduce the difficult emotions. You can try the following activities to help:

  • Yoga
  • Gentle exercise
  • Listening to music
  • Gardening
  • G oing for a walk
  • Mindfulness/meditation
  • Arts and crafts
  • Swimming

Learn more about coping with fear, anxiety and panic on the Cancer Research UK website.


Mindfulness is a technique practised to enable us to be fully aware of ourselves, others and the environment. This includes being aware of and accepting without judgement, our bodies, emotions and senses, as they happen.

It is a skill that all of us are capable of, but it can take practice if you’re used to doing several things at once, rushing through things or being emotionally provoked.

To be mindful is to be calm and alert to the present moment and the practise can help manage difficult emotions that often happen when we are stressed and worried.

You can learn more and access free resources or paid for courses on the Breathworks website.


A cancer diagnosis might mean that changes need to be made to diet due to the cancer itself or treatment that you are receiving.

Your cancer nursing team will provide you with information about your diet, if changes are required and in some cases a referral will be made to the dietetics team.

More information about the dietetics team can be found here.

More general information about diet can also be found on the Macmillan website:

Hair loss

You may experience hair loss if you are having chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or hormonal and targeted (biological) therapy. If you are having surgery in an area of the body that has hair, like the head for example, the area may need to be shaved.

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Macmillan - Hair loss

Natural Image Wigs is our local service for wigs and referrals can be made from the chemotherapy day unit or your cancer team.

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Natural Image Wigs

For hair loss support, including lashes, brows and headscarf workshops, visit HeadWrappers.

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This is a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion. This can range from mild tiredness that is better after a period of rest, to extreme tiredness (fatigue) where you have no energy at all. This often improves once treatment has finished.

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Macmillan - Coping with fatigue

Being active before, during and after treatment is safe. It can reduce fatigue along with improvements in general health and wellbeing.

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Macmillan - Physical activity


Some of the difficulties with sleep that people with cancer often struggle with are:

  • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
  • Hot flushes and night sweats which can cause people to wake or make it difficult to get comfortable to sleep.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness, restless legs syndrome and worry/anxiety.

Mental reframing is about reviewing the negative thoughts and emotions around sleep and beginning to develop more positive and mindful habits.

Relaxation techniques: Both progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercises physically calm the body into a state conducive to sleep. The process of completing the exercises also gives the mind something to focus on, other than the worries and anxiety about cancer.

Sleep hygiene: Good sleep behaviour, such as following a bedtime routine, adhering to a consistent sleep schedule, keeping the bedroom cool and dark and avoiding heavy meals, stimulating caffeine or alcohol at night.

Sleep schedule: Only spend time in bed when you're supposed to be asleep and get out of bed at wake time, whether or not you have had a full 7 hours. It is advised to not take naps during the day. The idea behind sleep restriction is that it eventually forces the brain to naturally adhere to that set sleep schedule.

Sleep products

  • Cooling products can provide relief for cancer patients dealing with night sweats or hot flushes. These mattresses are designed with more breathable materials, such as gel-infused foams or latex, to provide a cooler sleep surface.
  • White noise machines help many individuals with insomnia fall asleep. These standalone electronics or smartphone apps have large libraries of nature sounds, classical music or traditional white noise to block out distracting noise and thoughts.
  • Weighted blankets can be calming for a variety of individuals, but many patients with Restless Leg Syndrome find that they adequately soothe symptoms.
  • The Macmillan Cancer Support website has more information about difficulty sleeping.
  • The Headspace app offers meditations and support when experiencing difficulty sleeping.
  • Sleepio is a clinically evidenced sleep improvement programme which is fully automated and highly personalised using cognative behavioural techniques to help improve poor sleep.

Sex and cancer

Cancer and treatments can affect many areas of sexual wellbeing. There may be changes that are physical, emotional or practical. Many changes are temporary and usually resolve after treatment ends. If you have any concerns they can be raised with your cancer team at any time.

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Macmillan - Sex and cancer


It is common to experience a wide range of emotions when you have been diagnosed with cancer and have to have treatment to treat or manage it. There is no right or wrong way to feel as everyone will cope in their own way. Your cancer team or the Macmillan Support Service can support you.

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Macmillan - How are you feeling?


Breathing exercises and relaxation techniques may help you if you become breathless.

Try to stay calm if you become breathless. This is easier said than done sometimes. But the more anxious you get, the tighter your muscles will be, and the worse your breathing will become.

Follow the link below to watch a video and access resources from Cancer Research UK that can help you practise different breathing techniques.

Cancer Research UK - Breathing relaxation techniques