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Cancer Side Effects “On the Rise!?”

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Cancer side effects are on the rise. First, the population is aging in the United State. Older people means more cancer diagnoses. Second, cancer is being diagnosed earlier. Diagnostic testing such as PSA, Gleason score, colonoscopies, mammograms, etc. leads to more diagnoses of cancer.

  1. More diagnoses means more treatment. 
  2. More treatment means more toxicity. 
  3. More toxicity leads to more cancer side effects.

This is a bit off topic but doctors, nurses, etc. never fully understand a side effect of cancer treatment until they undergo toxic therapy themselves. That’s not a criticism, just a fact.

Just being in remission isn’t the end of the story. Not by a long shot. Especially when the cancer survivor is trying to manage long-term and late stage side effects.

Managing both remission and side effects is all the more difficult because, according to the article linked and excerpted below “most oncologists were trained in the days when the focus was simply to keep people alive, not to address helping them live well, much less work or care for a family…”

Let me be clear about what that last sentence means. It means that FDA “safe and effective” cancer therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation cause short, long-term and late stage side effects. Yes, toxicity has been shown to kill cancer cells. But let’s be clear, cancer therapies cause inflammation, DNA damage, senescence and even increase your risk of a second cancer as well as your risk of your cancer’s relapsing.

I excerpted a sleep professional talking about sleep disorders. Sleep is a huge challenge for people on therapy as well as cancer survivors once they conclude active therapy. I am doing well if I wake only once each night for about 30-40 minutes. And I work as my sleep!

I then excerpted a professional talking about fatigue below after I excerpted the sleep professionals comments. I’ve survived my cancer since 1994, concluding aggressive conventional therapies in 1997 and I’ve never been completely rid of my chronic fatigue.

I am only a lay person so take my thinking with a grain of salt. Chemo and radiation cause systemic inflammation. And systemic inflammation causes fatigue. While I think cancer survivors can minimize their systemic inflammation, they can never completely heal it forever. In my experience anyway.

After discussion of sleep and fatigue, the article goes on to discuss chemotherapy-induced cerebral dysfunction aka chemobrain. Don’t get me started on that long-term side effect. I will say however, that I think I’ve made real improvements to my own chemobrain…after 25 plus years…

To Learn More about Cancer-related Fatigue- click now

Are you a cancer survivor? What side effects are you struggling with? What side effects have you healed? Scroll down the page, post a question or a comment and I will reply to you ASAP.

Hang in there,

David Emerson

  • Cancer Survivor
  • Cancer Coach
  • Director PeopleBeatingCancer

As More Survive Cancer, Issues With Sleep, Fatigue, Cognitive Function on the Rise

“As a nurse practitioner at Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha, Nebraska, Jennifer Schmitz, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, knew fatigue came with cancer. But she didn’t fully grasp it until she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2017. Over the next several years, all the symptoms patients had described—the insomnia, the cognitive issues, restless leg—slowly became real…

“Restless leg is a real thing,” Schmitz said, “I used to think that was kind of a funny thing when patients would tell me they had restless leg. I never really understood it until I had it myself.”

According to 2023 data from the America Cancer Society, there were 18.1 million cancer survivors in the United States in January 2022, which is 5.4% of the population. Cancer survivors will number 22.5 million by 2032.1 And yet, panelists acknowledged, most oncologists were trained in the days when the focus was simply to keep people alive, not to address helping them live well, much less work or care for a family…

Schmitz was a busy working mother with children ages 2 and 5 when

  • the bone pain,
  • mouth sores,
  • and other symptoms

led her to look for answers that led to her ALL diagnosis. That led to a very long protocol mostly of intravenous chemotherapy. But as the audience knew, “It’s not just the cancer treatment—the medications, the chemo itself—that really affects you; it’s everything else.”

Walking 6 or 7 miles a day around a hospital is not easy with neuropathy in your feet. It led to falls. It meant Schmitz had to rest, sometimes right on the floor. People knew her story and were kind. But even as her treatments eased, her fatigue continued. And then, at the moment of excitement when her treatment ended, COVID had started. “I couldn’t even hug my oncologist, which was really awful….And it was quite the experience. But my bone marrow did confirm I was in remission…”

Eric S. Zhou, PhD, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Sleep, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, said there are 83 different types of sleep disorders across 7 different categories in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, including breathing disorders, circadian rhythm disorders, parasomnias, and sleep-related movement disorders. And yet in a recent review looking at sleep disorders among cancer survivors, the conclusion found “the prevalence of overall particular types of sleep disorders and cancer cannot be ascertained.”

“Which means we really have no bloody clue how many of our patients are survivors [who] really have diagnosable sleep disorders,” Zhou said…

Kristin Dickinson, PhD, RN, OCN, and assistant professor of nursing at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, said that while there is no single agreed upon definition for cancer-related fatigue, it is the most common symptom reported by patients.

“And, it’s often reported to be the most distressing symptom, even more so than other symptoms such as

  • pain,
  • nausea,

where they’re often able to have medications to control those symptoms,” she said.

As Schmitz had noted, Dickinson said fatigue doesn’t stop when treatment ends. “We can have up to 50% of patients still reporting fatigue in long-term survivorship, 5 or more years from diagnosis,” Dickinson said. “We’re seeing on average 30% of patients reporting that fatigue is a distressing symptom in their life. In terms of quality of life, fatigue is often under reported under diagnosed and undertreated.”




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