What to know about Cancer

In this Section

  • Side Effects
  • Medications

Condition Introduction

Receiving a medical diagnosis such as cancer can be scary, overwhelming, and often confusing. Learning about the condition and the medications used to treat it can help make it more manageable.

Cancer is not just one disease. There are many different types and forms of cancer, and it can start in any place in the body. In all types of cancer, cells begin to divide uncontrollably and start crowding out normal, healthy cells. When the healthy cells become crowded by cancer cells, it can become difficult for them to work the way they should. This can make it challenging to carry on with every day activities.

Fortunately, cancer can be treatable for many people. There are a variety of treatment options available, many specifically made for certain types of cancer. You may hear these medications called “chemotherapy,” “targeted drugs,” or “biologics.” Chemotherapy is often used to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells, or to help keep tumors from returning. Targeted drugs and biologics work on the genes within certain cancer cells, stopping them from working correctly and continuing to multiply. Historically, most cancer drugs were given through an IV, but now, many newer cancer drugs are pills or capsules that can be taken by mouth. This allows patients to take the medication in the comfort of their own home. Like many medications, there are a variety of side effects that can occur from taking anti-cancer drugs. Nutrition plays a key role in managing the side effects of both cancer medications and the cancer itself. This area is designed to help patients nutritionally manage the most common side effects of anti-cancer drugs.

Anti-cancer drugs, as well as cancer itself, can cause a wide variety of issues leading to nutritional concerns. To better understand cancer, common side effects, and how nutrition is affected, see the table below for more details.

  • GI Issues
  • Mouth Concerns
  • Difficulty Eating
  • Mood Changes
  • Fatigue

General Overview

  • Diarrhea is a common side effect of many cancer treatments. Diarrhea can also be the result of emotional stress, inflammation in the gut, infection, or malabsorption due to the location of the cancer.
  • Constipation can occur as a side effect of certain medications or dehydration.
  • Several cancer therapies may cause nausea, sometimes leading to vomiting. In many people, these symptoms are relatively short-lasting.

How Nutrition is Affected

  • Frequent diarrhea may result in dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, weight loss, and being low in certain nutrients.
  • Constipation can lead to stomach pain, which may lower appetite, as well as feeling full quickly after eating, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Nausea and vomiting may cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and weight loss. If nausea continues, it can also cause low food intake, which can lead to being low in certain nutrients.

General Overview

  • Painful Mouth and Throat (mucositis and esophagitis): Certain types of cancer treatments may cause inflammation in the mouth and throat, resulting in painful sores or ulcers.
  • Dry Mouth (xerostomia): Certain cancer therapies can damage the glands that make saliva or simply cause dry mouth. Having less saliva can make it difficult to chew, swallow, or even talk.

How Nutrition is Affected

  • Continued inflammation and pain in the mouth and throat can cause eating difficulties, resulting in weight loss, dehydration, and being low in certain nutrients.
  • The eating difficulties associated with dry mouth can result in weight loss and being low or deficient in many nutrients.

General Overview

  • Appetite Loss (anorexia): Appetite loss or feeling full after only eating a small amount (early satiety) can be a result of both the cancer itself as well as cancer treatments.
  • Taste/Smell Changes: Certain cancer drugs may change the way foods taste and/or smell. Some people find they have very little sense of taste, while others complain of a heightened sense of metallic, bitter, salty or sweet taste.
  • Swallowing Problems (dysphagia): Swallowing problems can happen for those going through cancer treatments due to a cancer-related blockage, severe swelling, or nerve issues.

How Nutrition is Affected

  • Poor appetite can result in weight loss, being low in certain nutrients, dehydration, and/or malnutrition.
  • Having an altered sense of smell or taste can lower appetite, resulting in being low in certain nutrients and weight loss.
  • Swallowing problems may lead to dehydration, weight loss, and being low in certain nutrients.

General Overview

  • A cancer diagnosis and undergoing cancer treatment can cause a change in your mood. During cancer treatments, you may feel a variety of emotions, which may include depression, anger, anxiety, helplessness, or fear.

How Nutrition is Affected

  • Emotional changes, like depression and anxiety, may make people eat more or less than they would normally. Eating too much could result in weight gain. Eating too little could result in nutrient deficiencies and unintended weight loss. These changes can also affect interest in grocery shopping and food preparation, which could lead to malnutrition over time.

General Overview

  • Fatigue, or a lack of energy, is a common side effect of many cancer drugs, as well as the disease itself.

How Nutrition is Affected

  • Fatigue can result in poor food intake, weight loss, or potentially weight gain, if choosing unhealthy convenience foods is combined with lower activity levels.
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    Side Effects


Side Effects Overview

Cancer drugs work in a variety of different ways, with the main goal being to slow or stop the growth of unhealthy cancer cells. However, these drugs can also affect healthy cells, causing a variety of side effects. Some of the most common side effects include mouth sores, nausea and vomiting, dry mouth, lactose intolerance, and diarrhea and constipation. Depending on the drug being used, length of treatment, and the type of cancer, side effects can vary from person to person. Understanding the side effects can help you take charge of your health. Refer to the chart below to review other side effects related to cancer treatments. It’s always best to discuss current side effects and new changes that develop with your health care provider.

To learn more about side effects from cancer medications, see the table below.

To manage your side effects, download our Side Effects Tracker below:

  • Cancer Medication Side Effects

Most Common Side Effects

  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)
  • Upset stomach (nausea)
  • Constipation
  • Poor appetite
  • Feeling full after eating or drinking a small amount
  • Oral thrush (a fungal infection of the mouth)
  • Fatigue
  • Changes to taste/smell
  • Inflammation of the moist tissue lining the inside of the mouth and esophagus (mucositis/esophagitis)
  • Low numbers of certain types of blood cells
  • Skin changes (dry skin, rashes, discoloration)
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Hair loss

More Severe Side Effects

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Infection
  • Problems with certain organs (liver, kidneys, heart)
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    Side Effects


Understanding Your Medications

Getting a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Along with nutrition, taking your prescribed medications as directed is an important part of a successful treatment plan. The Meijer Specialty Pharmacy care team is here for you every step of the way. Our pharmacists are available 24/7 to answer questions and to help you get the most out of your medication.

With cancer, there are many different treatment options available, and many are specifically made for certain types of cancer. You may hear these medications called “chemotherapy”, “targeted drugs”, or “biologics”.

is often used to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells to help keep tumors from returning.

Targeted Drugs & Biologics
work on the genes within certain cancer cells, stopping them from working correctly and continuing to multiply.

To learn more about your specific cancer medications, visit the National Cancer Institute

See below for some helpful downloads associated to Cancer Medications:

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    Side Effects

meijer is here for you

At Meijer Specialty Pharmacy, our pharmacists are at the center of a complete team of specialists dedicated to your well-being. So whether you need help with side effects, managing costs, injection training, understanding how and when to take your medications; we’ll do whatever we can to help you, your family, and every family, live as well as possible.

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