Physical Effects of Treatment

It’s completely normal to be worried about what’s going to happen to your body and how you’re going to feel during your treatment.

All cancers are different, and some treatments will take more of a physical toll on the body than others. Many people are aware of the possibility of hair loss and weight fluctuations, but side effects and when they appear all differ from person to person.

The type of cancer you have and what stage it’s at will determine the treatment you have and how long it will go on for. Your GP, specialist and health team will be able to explain what you can expect, what’s likely to happen during your treatment and some of the possible side effects.



You might find it useful to keep a pain diary to keep a record for later reference when you speak to your doctor. Giving your doctor the best understanding of what you’re experiencing will help to manage your pain best and develop a plan.

You can keep a pain dairy in a notebook or use below link:

Pain Diary

There are different options that will be considered for your pain management which can range from over-the-counter and subscription medications to surgery. There are also a range of options such as physical therapy, relaxation techniques and counselling that might all help.

Some people find alternative methods help relieve their pain. Taking an exercise class like yoga, or tai chi and meditating and relaxing are all good ways to take your mind off your pain whilst keeping your body moving in gentle ways.

Having a massage or some acupuncture might also help. It’s always a good idea to let the person who is your therapist know you have cancer so they can help you in the best way.

Dietary changes and biofeedback (where instruments are used to help gain a better understanding of physiological functions) have also been found to help some people.

Your pain will almost certainly fluctuate throughout and after your treatment so it’s important to keep your doctor informed and see a pain specialist, through referral, if you have trouble managing it.



When you have cancer, you might find your sex life is something that’s affected. Being frequently tired can certainly have an impact and your physical symptoms might have an impact on your desire too.

Having cancer doesn’t mean you can’t have sex or be intimate. Discussing how you feel with your partner will be important so they can best understand how you feel about sex during and after your treatment.

A trusting relationship with your partner will help you through your cancer experience. Don’t feel awkward discussing your sexual health with your doctor. Talking to someone in your health care team about specific issues will help put you more at ease and increase the likelihood of continuing an enjoyable sex life during your cancer.

Doctor Explaining Prescription


Fertility preservation

If having children is something you want to do after your cancer treatment, whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s important to discuss this with your doctor before you start your treatment.

Some types of cancer, and their treatments, will affect both male and female fertility and can possibly cause birth defects, so using appropriate birth control is still important when you have cancer.

Some questions you might want to ask your doctor:

  • Will the type of treatment I’m having for my cancer affect my ability to have children later on?
  • Are there alternatives to this treatment that have fewer fertility side effects?
  • Is it safe to delay my cancer treatment until after fertility preservation treatment?
  • Will I be referred to a fertility specialist?

If you are referred to a fertility specialist you will be able to discuss your cancer and future treatment with them as well as what your hopes for the future are in regard to having children.


Some questions for your fertility specialist may be:

  • What’s your experience with freezing techniques for sperm, eggs, ovarian tissue and embryos?
  • What are the best ways to increase my chances of having children in the future?
  • What are possible fertility procedures open to me now and what are costs for these?
  • Will Medicare or my insurance cover these costs?


Exercise and physical activity

It’s not uncommon to feel tired and weak during your cancer treatment. These are real symptoms and definitely require you to make adjustments to your physical activity. Incorporating exercise and physical activity into cancer treatment will help you feel better, in both body and mind.

Being active will give you a feeling of having more control. Whilst you may initially have to make a concerted effort to get out and moving, the chances are you’ll feel much better when you regain some strength and focus your mind.

Doing some physical activity during the day might help you sleep at night too.

The types of things you can do, depending on your treatment, are walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, tai chi, pilates and dancing. Even things like gardening will get you out in the fresh air and give you a positive focus.

Your health care team will be able to recommend what might be good for you and suggest an exercise physiologist to help get you started.


Managing side effects

The chances are that the treatment you have for your cancer will come with some side effects but they can, in a lot of cases, be controlled and managed with improvement being made all the time in methods of side effect treatments.

Your doctor will talk you through the sorts of side effects you can expect and the best way to manage them but don’t feel you have to just grit your teeth and get through it. Even if it changes, happen during your treatment, there are ways to manage the changing side effects.

Further Advice

Healthdirect – 1800 022 222

24hr health advice line staffed by registered nurses

Cancer Council Helpline – 13 11 20

Australian Government Cancer Support website.

‘Look Good, Feel Better’ workshops provide advice and support about your appearance after changes through chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Macmillan, a British cancer support group, provide comprehensive advice on managing the side effects of treatment.

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