Because cancer therapy often damages healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. Before treatment starts, ask your health care team about possible side effects, how to prevent or reduce these effects, and how treatment may change your normal activities. You and your health care team can work together to make a treatment plan that meets your needs.
The following are the most common side effects of stomach cancer treatments. Undergoing any specific treatment does not necessarily mean you will suffer side effects; consult your physician to discuss what possible side effects you may experience.
Loss of Appetite
Appetite changes are common with stomach cancer and cancer treatments, particularly chemotherapy. Ongoing appetite loss can lead to weight loss, malnutrition and loss of muscle mass and strength. The combination of weight loss and loss of muscle mass, also called wasting, is referred to as cachexia.
Fatigue is extreme exhaustion or tiredness and is a common problem that people with cancer experience. More than half of patients experience fatigue during chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and up to 70 percent of patients with advanced cancer experience fatigue.
Chemotherapy can cause hair loss by damaging the hair follicles responsible for hair growth. Hair loss usually occurs on the head, but may also result throughout the body, including the face, arms, legs, underarms and pubic areas. The hair may fall out entirely, gradually or in sections. In some cases, the hair will simply thin. Hair loss is usually temporary, and the hair often grows back.
An infection occurs when harmful bacteria, viruses or fungi invade the body and the immune system is not able to destroy them quickly enough. Patients with cancer are more likely to develop infections because both cancer and cancer treatments (particularly chemotherapy and radiation therapy) can weaken the immune system. Although stomach cancer treatments can be more localized than other types of cancer treatments (which often affect larger areas of the body), infection is still a risk. Symptoms include aching, fever, discomfort, muscle pain and tiredness. Infection is usually treated with an antibiotic.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common in patients receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer and in some patients receiving other types of therapy. Many patients with cancer say they fear nausea and vomiting more than any other side effects of cancer treatment. When it is minor and treated quickly, nausea and vomiting can be quite uncomfortable but cause no serious problems. Persistent vomiting can cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, weight loss and depression.
Nervous System Disturbances
Nervous system disturbances can be caused by many different factors, including cancer, cancer treatments or medications. Symptoms that result from a disruption or damage to the nerves caused by cancer surgery, radiation treatment or chemotherapy can appear soon after treatment or many years later.