Managing Side Effects of Treatment

One of the toughest parts of dealing with any cancer can be living with the side effects of treatment. Immunotherapy is no different.

While the job of this treatment is to prompt the immune system to attack cancer cells, it may affect healthy parts of your body, too, which is where the side effects come from. 

However immunotherapy affects you, you don’t have to just live with those issues. You can work with your doctor and care team to manage them and be as comfortable as possible while the medicine does its work.

Get a Handle on Side Effects

You could have a combination of side effects from immunotherapy or very few. The most common ones include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Nausea
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Fever
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Rarely, it can cause more serious infections.

Some simple habits can help you manage these issues:

  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help with fever and muscle aches. 
  • Exercise keeps up your strength, energy levels, and your appetite. It may also help ease any pain. Talk to your doctor about the kinds of physical activity that are safe for you right now.
  • Your body is going through a lot, so give yourself time to rest every day. Get plenty of sleep at night and take short naps during the day if you need them. Make sure you give yourself time to rest between activities. 
  • Eat small, nutritious meals throughout the day, rather than the usual three larger ones, to help with nausea. This is also a good approach if treatment has zapped your appetite. Healthy, nutrient-dense meals also boost energy levels and fuel your immune system.
  • Take care of your mind as well as your body. Think about joining a support group.  Sharing your feelings with people who know and understand exactly what you're going through can be a big help when dealing with the side effects of treatment. Ask your care team to recommend some groups that meet in person or online. 

If any of your side effects are severe, don't go away after a few days, or you come down with a fever, call your doctor right away.  

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Keep Talking With Your Doctor

One of the most important things you can do about your side effects is to keep talking about them with your doctors and nurses. 

Be open and honest with them about how you're feeling -- not just physically, but emotionally, too. A treatment journal can help you keep track of any symptoms you're having. It's also a great way to vent your concerns and frustrations, and keep track of what you want to bring up with your care team at your next visit.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on February 10, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Cancer Research Institute: “Bladder Cancer.”

American Cancer Society: “Immunotherapy for Bladder Cancer.”

Cancer Treatment Centers of America: “Immunotherapy for bladder cancer.”

Macmillan Cancer Support: “BCG treatment for early (non-invasive) bladder cancer.”

Canadian Cancer Society: “Side effects of immunotherapy for bladder cancer.”

University of Utah Healthcare: “Bladder Cancer: Immunotherapy.”

American Cancer Society: “Mouth Sores.”

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