Dealing with the Side Effects of Chemotherapy



Most cancer patients will embark on chemotherapy as part of their treatment journey. Chemotherapy is often linked to many side effects and while it is true that chemotherapy may cause a wide range of side effects, most of these side effects are only temporary and can be minimised or prevented.


Below are some common side effects that cancer patients may experience while on chemotherapy. Click on the respective side effect to read up on tips on how you can help your loved one ease their side effects to increase their quality of life while on chemotherapy.


Fever and Infection
  • Ensure that the patient practices good personal hygiene
  • Ensure that the patient washes their hands with soap and water before eating and after going to the washroom
  • Avoid bringing the patient to crowded areas
  • Avoid bringing the patient into contact with people who have cough, cold or other infections
  • Avoid giving the patient raw or undercooked food
  • Check the patient's temperature with a thermometer whenever they feel unwell or feverish and inform the Doctor if the patient's temperature reaches 38 degrees celcius at any time
  • Do not self-medicate the patient
Nausea and Vomiting
  • Ensure that the patients takes dexamethasone with meals
  • Avoid giving the patient a heavy meal just before chemotherapy
  • Provide the patient will small meals at frequent intevals instead of large meals
  • Ensure that the patient eats and drinks slowly and chews their food well for easier digestion
  • Avoid giving the patient oily and spicy foods
  • Avoid giving the patient too much fluid during meals
  • Avoid giving the patient fizzy drinks, coffee or tea
  • Avoid giving the patient foods with strong smells or flavours such as durian
  • Give the patient lots of fluids to drink
  • Avoid letting the patient eat too much high fibre foods such as whole grain bread, cereal, beans, raw vegetables and fruits
  • Avoid giving the patient tea, coffee, fried, greasy or spicy foods
  • Avoid giving the patient milk or other dairy products that could worsen their diarrhoea
  • Give the patient lots of fluids to drink. It is recommended to give the patient at least eight glasses of water or other fluids per day
  • Provide the patient with a high-fibre diet
  • Ensure that the patient exercises regularly by doing low impact exercises such as walking to improve their bowel movement
Mouth Sores
  • Bring the patient to see a dentist for a check-up and cleaning before they start on chemotherapy
  • Ensure that the patient brushes their teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush
  • Ensure that the patient rinses their mouth with water after every meal. Make sure that the mouthwash does not contain alcohol which could cause the patient to have dry mouth
  • Check the patient's mouth once a day for white spots/patches or mouth sores and inform the nurse if the patient develops any
  • Avoid giving the patient hot scalding soups and beverages
  • Avoid giving the patient spicy foods
  • If the patient wears dentures, make sure they remove their dentures/partial plate before their mourth care and refrain from wearing their dentures/partial plate unless it is necessary
  • Also, ensure that the dentures/partial plate are always cleaned and brushed before soaking in a regular soaking solution
Loss of Appetite / Alteration in Taste
  • Give the patient small meals at frequent intervals
  • The patient's appetite is usually best in the morning, so try to ensure they consume at least one theird of their required protein and calorie intake then
  • Provide the patient with other food supplements such as Ensure, Isocal, Resource, Sustagen etc
  • Avoid giving the patient foods that are filling or gas-forming such as beans, cabbages or broccoli
  • Accompany the patient for a short walk or brief exercise before meals
  • Ensure that the patient uses a mouth wash frequently to remove any bitter or metallic taste
Hair Loss
  • Encourage the patient to keep their hair short as this will make their hair look thicker and fuller and make hair loss easier to manage
  • Ensure that the patient uses a mild shampoo to wash their hair
  • Ensure that the patient uses a soft hair brush or wide-toothed comb
  • Make sure that the patient avoids using hair dryers, hair rollers, clips or bands
  • Discourage the patient from colouring or dyeing their hair
  • To help with the patient's confidence, encourage them to buy a wig that matches their hair colour before all their hair falls out
  • You can also encourage them to accessorise with scarves, caps or turbans to protect their heads from sunburn
  • Ensure that the patient does not oversleep as too much rest can decrease their energy level and make them feel even more lethargic. Speak to the doctor or nurse if the patient has trouble sleeping
  • Accompany the patient on regular exercises such as light walks to ensure they stay as active as possible
  • Give the patient plenty of fluids and nutritious foods
  • Help the patient schedule their activities by spreading them out throughout the day with ample breaks between. You can also help out with their meals, household chores or errands
  • Accompany the patient to do activities that they enjoy and makes them feel good such as listening to music, visiting friends and family or looking at pleasant pictures. Try to do this at least three times a week
  • Speak to the nurse or doctor if the patient experiences severe anaemia (pale skin)
Effect on Skin and Nails
  • Ensure that the patient moisturises their hands and feet
  • Avoid exposing the patient to sunlight and tanning booths and ensure that they apply sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher whenever they're outdoors
  • Make sure that the patient wears gloves with handling household chores and working with tools or detergents
  • Ensure that the patient wears well-fitted shoes to protect their toes and feet
  • Inspect the patient's hands and feet daily for any changes
  • Speak to the doctor or nurse if the patient experiences severe rashes and/or blistering/painful rashes
Effects on Kidney and Bladder
  • Give the patient plenty of fluids, at least eight glasses of water or other fluids per day is recommended especially during the first few days of chemotherapy
  • Limit the patient's intake of drinks that contain caffeine such as black tea, coffee and some cola products
Effects on the Reproductive System
  • For male patients, encourage him to go for sperm banking prior to chemotherapy if he would like to father a child in future
  • If the patient is your spouse, try to use a lubricating water based jelly to reduce dryness of vagina and pain during sexual intercourse
  • For female patients, it is important that they avoid getting pregnant while on chemotherapy as it may have harmful effects on the baby
  • Pregnancy should be avoided for up to two years after the last dose of chemotherapy
  • If the patient experiences hot flushes, ensure that they avoid caffeine and alcohol and perform regular physical exercise
  • Avoid letting the patient participate in contact sports or strenuous activities that may cause injury
  • Discourage the patient from forceful blowing of their nose
  • Ensure that the patient uses a soft toothbrush to brush their teeth
  • Make sure that the patient's dentures are well-fitted
  • Do not let the patient consume any medication without first consulting their doctor, especially aspirin or other pain relieving medicine
  • Inform the patient's dentist/surgeon that they are undergoing chemotherapy before embarking on any dental/surgical procedures
  • Avoid bringing the patient for massages, acupressure or acupuncture sessions as these may cause bleeding
  • Discourage the patient from using razor blades, nail clippers or dental floss to minimise the chance of injury and bleeding
Numbness, Burning or Tingling Sensations
  • Ensure that the patient practices foot care and wears proper shoes to protect against injuries
  • Help make the patient's house a conducive environment to minimise or prevent falls
  • Gently massage the patient's hands and feet to improve circulation and stimulation of their nerves and provide them with temporary pain relief
  • If the patient experiences any change in sensation, speak to the medical team to allow titration of drugs

Back to Top