Coping With the Fear of Side Effects

March 26, 2012
Download MP3 (3.36 MB/3:40)

How to cope with the fear of side effects before starting cancer treatment.



You’re listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net. This cancer information website is produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, known as ASCO, the world’s leading professional organization for doctors who care for people with cancer.

In today’s podcast, we’ll discuss how to cope with the fear of side effects from cancer treatment.

It’s normal to fear the unexpected and worry that cancer treatment will be difficult. In fact, fear of treatment side effects is common after a diagnosis of cancer. For example, many people fear discomfort, pain, nausea, or fatigue from treatment. You may be worried that you will lose the ability to do your regular activities or go to work. It’s also common to feel anxious about a specific treatment or procedure. Other people may worry about changes in appearance, such as hair loss or scars.

To help cope with your concerns, a good first step is to think about and identify exactly what you are afraid of. This will help you talk about your fears with your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or social worker. They can talk with you about:

  • which side effects are most likely to happen and which are not

  • when side effects are likely to occur, and

  • how they will be managed if they happen.

Many treatments used today are less intensive than  treatments used in the past. And, there’s been significant progress in cancer research about how to best care for the patient when side effects do occur. Your health care team is there to help prevent and manage side effects, and most side effects go away once treatment ends.

Now, let’s talk about some ways to cope with your concerns:

Tip number one: Don't be afraid to ask your health care team questions, no matter how "silly" you may think they sound, and stay involved in your care. When making treatment decisions, voicing your worries will give you a sense of control and may lessen your fears.

Number two: Be sure to ask about how to reach the doctor’s office after hours and for a list of side effects you should watch for that may require immediate care.

Number three: Talk with your family and loved ones about your fears and let them know you need support. Most people are willing to help, especially when you ask them to do specific things, such as assisting with childcare or household responsibilities.

Number four: Join a support group to talk with others who have gone through the same treatments. It can help to know that you’re not alone. But, remember that each person’s side effects may be different from your own.

Number five: Talk with your employer so that he or she knows what you will be going through. You may be able to adjust your work schedule while you undergo treatment.

Number six: Try to stay focused on the present and cope with fears as they happen. Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, music therapy, writing in a journal, and meditation can help you with this. However, if you have severe and ongoing anxiety, talk with your doctor about other solutions

And, tip number seven: Give yourself time to grieve physical losses and to adjust to your new body, regardless of whether changes in your physical appearance are short term or long term.

A diagnosis of cancer can bring many difficult emotions, but talking openly and honestly with your health care team as well as your family are key in finding the support your need.

For more information on what to expect from cancer treatment, contact your doctor or visit Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net Podcast.