5 Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

5 Physical Changes To Expect From Cancer

When undergoing cancer treatment, it’s important to understand that your body will experience side effects. Whether your body looks different or you simply feel that you look different, recognizing the physical changes in your body and coping with them in a healthy way is crucial to your well-being.

Below are the five most common changes or cancer treatment side effects that you may experience during your journey. They can be undesirable and challenging, but there are resources available to cancer survivors to alleviate the stress and unwanted attention they cause.

What are Side Effects of Cancer Treatment?

  • Hair Loss
  • Pale Skin and Lips, or Changes in Skin Color
  • Poor Concentration or Lapse in Memory
  • Changes in Appetite
  • Fatigue

These physical changes can be a result of cancer itself or side effects from the cancer treatment you are receiving. Regardless of their cause, just as there is no routine cancer, there is no routine cancer journey; the changes and side effects you may experience will be unique to your experience.

Hair Loss

Hair loss is the most noticeable and obvious change cancer patients see when undergoing chemotherapy and, sometimes, radiation. It can be stressful, particularly for women, and cause an undesirable self-image. Fortunately, resources like Hope’s Boutique are available to help you. At Hope’s, you can find a number of products to assist you with your hair loss, including wigs, hats and hair wraps.

Pale Skin and Lips, or Changes in Skin Color

The first thing people see is your face. If it’s pale, that can be an immediate indication that you are ill. While it’s important to embrace your cancer care and treatment, it is equally important to maintain your sense of self. Carefully applied makeup can drastically improve color for those undergoing cancer treatment. At Hope’s Boutique, specialists can help cancer patients find a look that makes them feel more positive about their appearance in an easy-to-apply way.

Poor Concentration

A common side effect of cancer treatment is poor concentration or mental cloudiness, frequently referred to as “chemo brain.” This side effect can be characterized by:

  • Memory lapses
  • Trouble concentrating (you can’t focus on what you’re doing, have a short attention span, may “space out”)
  • Trouble remembering details like names, dates and sometimes larger events
  • Trouble multi-tasking
  • Taking longer to finish things
  • Trouble remembering common words

For most people, these cognitive side effects happen quickly and last only a brief time. However, some individuals have reported long-term mental changes. In either case, many cancer patients do not share this concern with their treatment team until it begins affecting their everyday life. If you do begin to experience any of the previously mentioned cognitive impairments, talk with your cancer treatment team.

The good news is that oncologists and researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) are conducting studies to improve our understanding of these cognitive issues.

Changes in Appetite

Appetite changes are a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment. Patients may experience appetite loss causing them to eat less than usual, feel full after eating only a small amount or not feel hungry at all. Persistent appetite loss can lead to serious complications, including weight loss, malnutrition and the loss of muscle mass.

While you may not feel like eating, it’s important to remember that good nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight is not only vital to your overall health, but an important part of your recovery. Nutrition experts at the OSUCCC – James and JamesCare for Life are experienced with guiding cancer patients toward nutritious choices that are easy on their lifestyles and their bodies. By attending a cooking demonstration or other classes through JamesCare for Life, you and your caregiver can learn more about choosing and preparing meals that will help your recovery.


Fatigue is one of the most common and stressful side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. Cancer-related fatigue is more intense than the feelings of being tired people have on occasion; it can be debilitating and can greatly impact a person’s quality of life.

However, patients and caregivers rarely report fatigue to their cancer treatment team. If fatigue is causing you distress, tell your treatment team so they may provide you with assistance or resources to battle it.

For example, patients at the OSUCCC – James can attend a number of JamesCare for Life classes that not only teach cancer patients about fatigue, but also help them combat it.