Treatment Side Effects

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2017.

Treatment for lung cancer targets cancer cells, but it can also cause unwanted side effects, creating problems that affect healthy tissues or organs. The side effects from treatment for lung cancer depend on the specific treatment given, and side effects vary from person to person. Not everyone who gets the same treatment has the same reaction. Side effects experienced may also be influenced by the patient’s age, other health conditions, and the combination of treatments received.

Common treatment side effects

Common side effects experienced by patients undergoing treatment for lung cancer include:1

  • Hair loss, which can affect the hair on the scalp, face or body and may be complete or partial, potentially also resulting in thinning hair
  • Nausea or vomiting, which in addition to causing distress can lead to dehydration and weakness
  • Loss of appetite or changes in taste, which can impact a person’s ability or desire to eat and may lead to malnutrition
  • Mouth sores or ulcers, which can range in severity from an inconvenience to becoming a severe complication that may delay or cause treatment to be discontinued
  • Diarrhea, characterized by loose, unformed, or frequent bowel movements that can lead to dehydration and weakness
  • Constipation, characterized by incomplete passage of stool or excessively hard or dry stools, which can cause pain and discomfort in the abdomen
  • Infections, which may be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or protozoa and can range in severity from mild to life-threatening
  • Fatigue, characterized by a sense of extreme tiredness, weakness, or lack of energy that can greatly impact quality of life
  • Bruising or bleeding easily, which in addition to causing physical effects can be distressing for patients
  • Skin changes or rashes, characterized by dry, itchy, peeling or red skin that can be uncomfortable or painful
  • Difficulty concentrating or memory problems, which are cognitive issues that can be mild or more challenging and impact daily life
  • Vision changes, including blurred vision, double vision, or increased sensitivity to light
  • Peripheral neuropathy, damage to the nerves that connect the brain to other parts of the body and may impact sensory information (possibly causing pain), the ability to control muscles, or other bodily functions
  • Kidney damage, a complication that interferes with the kidney’s ability to filter wastes from the blood and can result in urinary tract infections or imbalances of compounds in the blood

Managing treatment side effects

Many side effects can be managed, and some can be prevented. Communication between patients and their health care team is critical, and any side effects experienced should be brought to the attention of a doctor or nurse.

Side effects from lung cancer treatment are often temporary and tend to go away after treatment is completed. However, some side effects may last longer or be irreversible. Reducing the dosage, changing medications, or delaying treatment regimens can be potential options to help manage some side effects.

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