Managing the Side Effects of Cancer and Cancer Treatment
by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.
Medications may help to either prevent or reduce side effects of treatment, or to manage certain side effects once they occur. Since you can develop these symptoms from the treatment and/or from the cancer itself, it is essential that you discuss them with your doctor when you notice them, and ask if any of these medications are appropriate for you.
Medications to Help Manage Nausea and Vomiting
Antiemetics given by prescription include the following:
Common side effects for dexamethasone include:
Common side effects for dolasetron include:
Common side effects for dronabinol include:
Common side effects for granisetron include:
Common side effects for lorazepam include:
Prochlorperazine can be taken by mouth, injection, or a suppository. Ondansetron and granisetron can be taken orally or as injections. Metoclopramide is usually given by injection.
Common side effects for prochlorperazine include:
Common side effects for metoclopramide include:
Common side effects for ondansetron include:
Medications to Decrease Pain
To help manage pain, your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). You may also be prescribed corticosteroids or opioid pain relievers.
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs are used to relieve pain and inflammation. You may experience pain and inflammation for a variety of reasons, such as:
NSAIDs include the following:
Common side effects of NSAIDs include:
Like NSAIDs, corticosteroids help to minimize inflammation and pain due to inflammation.
Corticosteroids include the following:
Common side effects of corticosteroids include:
Opioid Pain Relievers
Opioid pain relievers act on the central nervous system. These drugs can be very effective however, they must be used with care because of their side effects. Addiction is rare in those who use these medications appropriately for pain control. If you are going to take one of these drugs for a long period of time, your doctor will closely monitor you.
Opioid pain relievers include the following:
Acetaminophen is often combined with an opioid analgesic to provide better pain relief than either medication used alone. And in some cases, lower doses of each medication are necessary to achieve pain relief. Examples of such drugs include the following:
The most common side effects of opioid pain relievers include:
Medications to Support Your Blood Cells
During cancer treatment, blood cells can be destroyed along with cancer cells. Medications given to treat this problem are called blood stem cell support drugs and include the following:
Filgrastim helps your bone marrow make new white blood cells. White blood cells fight off and reduce the risk of infection.
Epoetin helps your bone marrow to make new red blood cells, which help reduce the risk of anemia. The medication is quite effective, but it has a two-week delay between the injection and when your red blood cell count really starts to come back. It is not used as a “quick fix” for a low red blood cell count. A blood transfusion is usually performed if you need to recover your red blood cell count more quickly.
Oprelvekin is a platelet growth factor. Platelets help your blood clot, so very low counts can lead to serious bleeding. If your platelet counts fall below a specific level, you may be given transfusions.
Blood stem cell support drugs are given by injection in your doctor's office.
Common side effects for darbepoetin alpha include:
Common side effects for filgrastim include:
Common side effects forepoetin include:
Common side effects for pegfilgrastim include:
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Updated April 2014. Accessed December 27, 2016.
Last reviewed December 2016 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 5/26/2015
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