Treatments for metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer can ease pain and help you live longer and better. But they do have side effects. Some are mild while others are more serious.

They can vary widely, even among people on the same treatment. Every person with cancer is unique. Different types of treatment have different side effects. Some are temporary. Others last long after treatment ends.

It’s important to know which side effects to watch for and what to do if you have them. 

Constipation

If you don’t go often enough -- at least once every 3 days -- or it’s hard to go, a few lifestyle changes might help:

  • Drink plenty of water and other clear liquids, like warm tea.
  • Eat more raw fruits and veggies or try a fiber supplement.
  • Get as much light exercise as you can.  

Avoid suppositories, enemas, and laxatives unless your doctor says it’s OK to use them. Call your doctor if you:

  • Haven’t gone in 3 days
  • See blood in your stool
  • Have belly pain and vomiting that won’t stop

Diarrhea

A liquid diet of water, salty broths, apple juice, and gelatin can help ease this. Stay away from sugary or fizzy sodas.

As you get better, you can add easy-to-digest foods like:

  • Bananas
  • Dry toast
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Yogurt

Stay away from these foods, as they can make things worse:

  • Milk
  • Greasy food
  • Raw fruits and veggies

Call your doctor if:

  • Your diarrhea lasts longer than you were told it would.
  • You have a fever.
  • There's blood in your stool.
  • Your belly hurts and it's swollen.

Eye Problems

Cancer treatment can cause:

  • Blurry vision
  • Dryness
  • Light sensitivity
  • Eye pain
  • Redness

Call your doctor as soon as you notice any changes with your eyes. You might be able to take a lower dose of medicine or stop treatment until your eyes get better.

Fatigue

This isn’t the tired feeling you get when you don’t sleep enough or work too hard. It’s when you barely have the energy to move. Fatigue can have many causes, including the cancer itself, your treatment, and depression.

Regular exercise, like walking and yoga, can give you more energy. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, eat healthy, and take breaks when you feel worn down.

Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.   

Call your doctor if you :

  • Can’t get out of bed for 24 hours
  • Have a hard time waking up
  • Get dizzy or fall
  • Feel your fatigue get worse

Hair Loss

Some chemo meds cause this, and not just on your scalp but your whole body. If your doctor says you're likely to lose your hair, you might want to cut it short or try a wig, turban, or scarf.

Be gentle when you brush your hair, and choose a mild shampoo that doesn't have chemicals.

You may want to talk to your health care team about the pros and cons of cooling caps. These devices keep your scalp cold before, during, and after chemo to help stop hair loss. But they don’t always work. They're also costly, and they can cause headaches as well as back and neck pain.

Keep in mind that your hair will grow back, sometimes before you finish treatment.

Metallic Taste

Chemo and some types of immunotherapy can cause a metallic taste in your  mouth. To combat it:

  • Stay hydrated. If you don't get enough fluids, it can make taste changes more intense.
  • Try sugar-free lemon drops, gum, or mints.
  • Add new seasoning to your foods. Tart flavors can work well as long as you don't have a sore throat or mouth.
  • Brush your teeth often.
  • Rinse with a mouthwash of baking soda, salt, and water.

Nausea and Vomiting

If you have these, your doctor will give you medicine to help control or stop them. You might have to try a few different meds to find one that works best.

For nausea, you can also:

  • Eat foods that you like or sound good to you.
  • Munch on small snacks such as fresh fruit throughout the day.
  • Sip cool, clear liquids like ginger ale, apple juice, and broth.
  • Avoid greasy, fried, spicy, or very sweet foods.
  • Try tart or sour foods like yogurt.
  • Take your mind off nausea with music, meditation, and deep breathing.
  • Take anti-nausea meds as soon as you start to feel sick.

For vomiting:

  • Suck on ice chips.
  • Try not to lie down (so you don’t swallow your vomit).
  • Drink plenty of water.

Call your doctor if you:

  • Throw up for a few days in a row
  • Think you might have inhaled vomit
  • Throw up blood
  • Haven’t eaten for 2 days
  • Can’t keep down water or your medicine
  • Feel dizzy or confused
  • Have dark yellow urine

Pain

You might not be able to get rid of all cancer pain, but there are ways to ease it. Take your meds as prescribed. Don’t wait until you hurt.

As your pain medicine starts to work and you start to feel better, try to be more active. Exercise is a great pain reliever. It also helps prevent constipation, which is a common side effect of some pain meds.  To deal with that, drink lots of water and eat high-fiber foods, too. You can try stool softeners if your doctor says it’s OK. 

Call your doctor if:

  • Your pain meds don’t offer enough relief.
  • The medicine upsets your stomach, makes you dizzy, or causes sleepiness.
  • The pain gets worse.

Rashes and Dry Skin

These are common side effects of many cancer treatments. They can show up any time, just about anywhere on your body.  

To ease burning, itching, and flaking:

  • Wash with a soft cloth and gentle soap.
  • Use lots of moisturizer.
  • Wear soft, loose clothing.
  • Use sun protection whenever you’re outside, like an umbrella or wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

Call your doctor if you:

  • Have itching that lasts more than 2 days or keeps you up at night
  • Scratch until you bleed
  • Have blisters

Swelling

This happens when fluid builds up in different parts of your body, like your arms, legs, or belly. Fluid can fill the space around your lungs. That can make it hard to breathe. There are treatments to drain the fluid and stop it from coming back.

To keep swelling down, limit the amount of sodium in your food. Walking and other exercise can be a big help, too. Wear loose clothing and shoes that don’t pinch.

Call your doctor if:

  • You’re short of breath.
  • Your heartbeat feels out of synch.
  • The swelling gets worse.

Trouble Thinking

You might have heard the term “chemo brain.” It refers to the thinking problems that can happen before, during, and after chemotherapy. You might be more forgetful or have trouble focusing or finding the right words. For many people, these problems only last a short time, but sometimes they linger.  

To make daily life easier:

  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Use a day planner or smartphone to keep track of appointments, plans, addresses, and phone numbers.
  • Do the hardest tasks when your mind is sharpest.
  • Eat lots of vegetables.
  • Use your brain in new ways. Learn a new language or take a class.
  • Keep track of when your thinking is fuzziest. That way, you can plan around those times.
  • Try not to focus on your slip-ups. They’re not as bad as you think.

Call your doctor if your brain problems start to make it hard to work, go to school, or live the life you want.

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