After you completed cancer treatment, you were probably able to say goodbye to many of the unpleasant aspects of having cancer – frequent doctors’ appointments, anxiety about whether you would beat the disease, and many short-term side effects of cancer treatment. However, some side effects of cancer treatment take much longer to go away. Two common examples of longer-lasting effects of chemotherapy cancer treatment are cancer-associated cognitive dysfunction and neuropathy, which can affect your mental functioning and health.
During your cancer journey, you may have complained about suffering from “chemo brain.” Cognitive dysfunction is the medical term for the forgetfulness or absent-mindedness that often comes during chemotherapy treatments. Symptoms include having difficulty with:
Research shows that chemotherapy contributes to these symptoms and that they affect 20% to 60% of cancer patients and survivors who received chemotherapy. While cognitive dysfunction can negatively affect your moods, relationships, ability to work, and quality of life, most people begin to notice improvements within a year after chemotherapy ends.
If you’re a cancer survivor suffering from cognitive changes, there are steps you can take to improve your mental functioning. These include:
Another long-lasting side effect of cancer treatment is called chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). Symptoms of CIPN include:
Neuropathy can also be caused by diabetes, liver disease, malnutrition and/or vitamin B and E deficiency, chronic alcohol use, and advanced age. If you’re experiencing neuropathy. Exercise, yoga, acupuncture, and massage may relieve symptoms. Physical therapists can help with balance and occupational therapists can help improve hand function.
Medications are most effective for painful neuropathy, however, may provide some relief for sensory symptoms. Talk to your doctor about which medications may work best for you.
Chemo-induced neuropathy symptoms are usually the worst 3-5 months after the last chemotherapy dose. After that, symptoms may disappear completely, lessen, or affect less of the body; if symptoms disappear or diminish, that occurs gradually, usually over several months. In some cases, however, CIPN symptoms may be permanent.
Numbness, tingling, and pain from neuropathy may make it difficult to perform some daily tasks, including dressing, preparing meals, driving, writing, and walking. If you’re experiencing these difficulties, the following can be helpful:
Once you have completed cancer treatment, you are not completely free of the side effects of cancer. It can be helpful to remind yourself that you have survived the biggest hurdle: cancer. You can also survive and thrive despite these long-term side effects of cancer treatment.