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Managing Lymphoma Treatment Side Effects

Posted on June 16, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Richard LoCicero, M.D.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN

Undergoing lymphoma treatment can sometimes bring along harsh side effects, including digestive issues, fatigue, sleep problems, and changes to your appearance. By anticipating what your body may go through as you begin lymphoma treatment, you can prepare for the road ahead. You can use several strategies to maximize your treatment’s effectiveness and minimize adverse effects on your physical and mental well-being.

Dealing With Digestive Problems

Many people experience nausea, vomiting, and appetite changes with lymphoma treatment. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and medications often produce unwanted gastrointestinal symptoms. These can include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Changes to your sense of smell and taste can also make certain foods unappetizing. You have options for reducing these issues, however.

Change Your Cutlery

If you notice a metallic taste in your mouth, try using plastic cutlery and avoiding canned foods. Using plastic straws and blending foods like fruits, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and protein powders can help you take in nutrients while avoiding smells that may induce nausea.

Eat Cold Foods or Light Snacks

You may prefer cold, bland foods over foods with strong tastes or smells during treatment. MyLymphomaTeam members share tips for managing their treatment-related nausea. “Try pretzels instead of crackers,” one member wrote.

Suck on Something

Some members have found that sucking on lozenges or cold pops helps ease their nausea and other digestive symptoms. “Cherry-flavored Halls drops helped my nausea,” said one member. Another shared, “I was recommended Ice Breakers Sours for nausea and dry mouth. They are a godsend right now.”

Choose Nutrient-Dense Options

Eating nutrient- and calorie-dense foods (including some higher-fat items that you may have avoided in the past) can help ensure that you get the energy you need. Meeting with an oncology dietitian can help you find healthy options that ease the digestive issues brought on by lymphoma treatment.

Talk to Your Health Care Team

If steroids like prednisone are part of your lymphoma treatment plan, you may struggle with indigestion, a stronger appetite, and weight gain. Fortunately, these symptoms typically go away once steroid treatment ends. Talk to your health care team about your options.

Some prescription medications can also help ease nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms related to treatment. Your doctor can guide you through different treatment options and help you figure out what works best with your body.

Reducing Lymphoma-Related Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of lymphoma treatment. For some, fatigue can persist for years after treatment has completed.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

Depression can contribute to fatigue, so working with your health care team to find support can help you sort out how you’re feeling and address the mental and emotional aspects of cancer treatment. Easing depression or depressive symptoms may help alleviate your fatigue.

Stay Active

Exercise is not only helpful for general health and well-being, but it may also help reduce fatigue. Recent cancer research in mice suggests that physical activity lowers systemic inflammation and promotes immune function, having potentially therapeutic effects on cancer cells.

You don’t have to follow a strict exercise routine to stay active. Listen to your body, and focus on moving in ways that help you feel more energized and upbeat.

Not all forms of exercise are safe for everyone with lymphoma, either. Before beginning a new exercise program, talk to your doctor. It’s important to be especially careful if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Active infection or fever
  • Cancer that has spread to the bones
  • Low white blood cell, red blood cell, or platelet counts
  • Issues with balance or bone density

You may be able to work with a physical therapist to find modified workouts appropriate for your needs.

Managing Sleep Problems

There are many reasons why people with lymphoma may not be getting the rest they need during treatment. Night sweats and anxiety are not unusual when undergoing lymphoma treatment. If you’re prescribed steroid medication with chemotherapy drugs, you may notice increased agitation and trouble sleeping.

Being proactive about your sleep hygiene is essential. To improve your chances of sleeping well, try to get seven to eight hours of consistent sleep every night. Avoid stimulants like exercise or caffeine before bed. Set yourself up with a comfortable sleep environment with ambient noise, light-blocking curtains, and lightweight sheets and pajamas to help you stay cool.

Discuss concerns about sleep with your doctor, too. Sometimes adjusting your medications or seeing a sleep therapist can help.

Coping With Changes to Your Appearance

Lymphoma treatment can affect the way you look, taking a toll on your self-esteem and confidence levels. Changes like irritated skin from radiation and hair loss or texture changes from chemotherapy can make it hard to feel like yourself. If your weight fluctuates due to weight gain, weight loss, or bloating, your clothes may no longer fit the same way.

Connecting with others who have dealt with similar challenges can help you remember that you’re not alone. Look for a hairstylist who understands the side effects of cancer treatment. Instead of spending a lot of money on a new wardrobe, try buying yourself a few new pieces or shopping at the thrift store to find clothing that works for your body at its current size.

Schedule time for self-care, like a massage or spa day. You can do an inexpensive facial or manicure at home to give yourself a boost. Don’t be afraid to focus on yourself and your quality of life, even if it’s not something you prioritized in the past.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLymphomaTeam is the social network for people with lymphoma and their loved ones. More than 11,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lymphoma.

How do you manage the side effects of your lymphoma treatment? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyLymphomaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Richard LoCicero, M.D. has a private practice specializing in hematology and medical oncology at the Longstreet Clinic Cancer Center, in Gainesville, Georgia. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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