Cancer Survivorship

Managing Continuing Side-Effects as a Cancer Survivor

You're now a cancer survivor, but even though your cancer treatments have ended and your oncologist has given you the green light to resume your pre-cancer activities such as exercise and work, you may not feel entirely back to your “pre-cancer self.” Chemotherapy and other cancer treatment drugs, radiation therapy, and surgeries that were used to treat cancer often have long-term (sometimes even permanent) side effects.

More Research is Being Conducted on Long-term Treatment Effects

Cancer survival rates have increased and will continue to increase, according to the National Cancer Institute. By 2026, the organization expects the number of survivors to reach 20.3 million, which is an increase of 31% (more than 4 million survivors) over a 10-year period. With cancer survival rates steadily climbing, there’s increasing interest in the survivors’ quality of life.

Researchers at the University of Australia, for example, analyzed the pharmaceutical records of nearly 4,000 prostate cancer survivors from 2003 to 2014. They concluded that survivors treated with a common prostate cancer therapy were at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, gastric acid disorders, high blood cholesterol, osteoporosis, and inflammatory/painful conditions after their cancer treatment ended.

Another study focusing on gynecological cancer survivors who had undergone radiation therapy concluded that these survivors experienced more urinary, gastrointestinal, and sexual side effects after cancer treatment than survivors who were not treated with radiation therapy.

This increasing interest in survivors’ side effects has prompted research into understanding which treatments produce fewer side effects after treatment is over.  

Side Effects that Cancer Survivors May Experience

Just as every patient’s cancer is treated with a unique, tailored approach, lingering treatment side effects vary from survivor to survivor. Some people experience no long-term side effects at all. Others experience several. Some of the most common long-term side effects of cancer treatment include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Dental disorders
  • Generalized fatigue
  • Sexual side effects
  • Heart problems
  • Mental fogginess
  • Anxiety

If you’re experiencing any of these side effects or any type of pain, make sure to let your cancer care team know. Your doctors -- and other survivors experiencing similar symptoms -- can help you learn how to manage long-term side effects.