Cancer treatment side effect: Dehydration

Do you feel thirstier than usual? Are you experiencing dry lips or skin? These may be signs of dehydration. Dehydration is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment can cause dehydration due to other side effects, like fevers, vomiting, diarrhea or excessive urniation. These treatments can increase the need for IV hydration due to increased fluid needs. Dehydration also can result from exposure to excessive heat, sweating, not consuming enough fluids, medication side effects or the cancer itself. To learn more about dehydration in cancer patients, we spoke with senior clinical dietitian Debra Ruzensky. Here’s what she had to say. What is dehydration? Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluid than it takes in. Our bodies are nearly 60% water, so water is our lifeblood. Why is staying hydrated important for cancer patients? Fluids carry nutrients to cells, flush bacteria from the bladder and prevent constipation. Staying hydrated makes treatment side effects less severe and lowers your chances of missing or delaying cancer treatments. It also means fewer trips to the emergency room for hydration through an IV. If it’s not addressed, dehydration can lead to severe complications, such as seizures, swelling of the brain, kidney failure, shock, coma and even death. Since dehydration can stop normal body functions and be quite dangerous, staying hydrated during treatment is important for protecting your organs from long-term damage. What are the signs of dehydration? There are a few signs that you might be dehydrated. These include: feeling thirsty experiencing dry mouth, lips, gums, and nostrils  increased headaches dizziness confusion sleepiness decreased energy darker urine color and decreased urination decreased skin elasticity low blood...

4 common cancer pain management myths

Nearly half of cancer patients experience pain caused by the cancer itself, cancer treatment or factors that aren’t related to cancer. When pain isn’t treated properly, it can interfere with sleep, quality of life and even how effective your treatment is. Although cancer pain is common, there’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding pain and the options for managing it. Here are four cancer pain management misconceptions Uzondu Osuagwu, M.D., commonly hears. Myth: Pain is just a physical issue. Truth: Pain can often coexist with anxiety, stress or depression. Patients who face these emotional side effects of cancer may experience chronic joint pain, back pain or gastrointestinal issues. So pain is not just a physical health issue. “If pain is keeping you from doing the things you enjoy or impacting your sleep, you may experience mood changes or increased anxiety,” Osuagwu says. “It’s important to tell your care team about any pain and mental health challenges you’re experiencing, so they can recommend the right treatment plan for you.” A therapist or social work counselor can help you navigate some of the causes of your stress and anxiety — such as transportation issues, financial and family concerns — and develop strategies to cope with them. If you’re an MD Anderson patient, you can request a referral to our pain psychologist for help addressing the causes of your pain. Myth: Medication is the only option for cancer pain relief. Truth: There are a lot of options when it comes to managing pain without medication. “The goal of pain management is to improve your quality of life,” Osuagwu says. “Whether you want to...

Gynecologic oncologist: Why cancer patients should come to MD Anderson first

I didn’t always want to be a doctor. When I first started college, I was a double major in literature and biology. I thought I’d be a literature professor. But during my second year of college, my 47-year-old mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I often took her to her appointments and treatments. Over time, I realized that I was interested in medicine, and oncology in particular. So, I decided to go to medical school. It was there that I discovered how much I enjoyed performing surgery. During my obstetrics and gynecology residency, I developed a strong interest in gynecologic cancers, especially cervical, ovarian and uterine cancers. I decided then to become a gynecologic oncologist. My dream was to work at MD Anderson. I achieved that dream in 1998. Today, I find great satisfaction in helping women return to their normal lives after a cancer diagnosis. And though I care for women with all types of gynecologic cancers, it’s extremely gratifying to help younger women — particularly those with cervical cancer — hold onto their dreams, so that one day, they might be able to have children. The MD Anderson advantage: more options and a multidisciplinary approach Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s exceedingly important for women to seek cancer treatment at a place like MD Anderson first, not just to come here for a second opinion. Because MD Anderson may have options that are not available elsewhere. And survival rates are much higher in patients with gynecologic cancers who visit specialized cancer centers like MD Anderson. So, coming to MD Anderson first could completely change a person’s...

MD Anderson saved my life — and my adolescent daughter’s

Cancer doesn’t run in my family or my husband’s. Only one of my ancestors had it: my paternal grandmother died of lung cancer when I was 11. But she was 64 and a long-time smoker, so her diagnosis didn’t really come as a surprise. What did come as a surprise was my own metastatic melanoma diagnosis in August 2013 — and my daughter’s metastatic osteosarcoma diagnosis just one year later. I was 42 when I learned that I had cancer. My daughter was 12. Both of our cancers turned out to be pretty rare. But even the most unusual cancers are not rare at MD Anderson, so I knew its doctors had the expertise to help us. And after receiving treatment there, both my daughter and I are now cancer-free. My melanoma diagnosis My first melanoma symptom was a swollen lymph node under my right arm. My gynecologist spotted it on my annual mammogram, but dismissed it as a minor infection when a breast ultrasound showed nothing suspicious. A year later, the lump was still there, so my doctor ordered a biopsy and a PET scan. The results showed that I had cancer in my right lung and other lymph nodes, but not what kind. Sarcoma or melanoma were the most likely candidates. Since my local doctor was certain that I had cancer, I went ahead and had surgery near my home in Mexico City to remove part of my lung and the affected lymph nodes. But I decided to seek a second opinion before doing anything else. I just didn’t feel comfortable starting chemotherapy until I knew precisely...

What is lymphedema? Understanding this common cancer treatment side effect

Lymphedema is a common cancer treatment side effect that can cause swelling in a patient’s arm or leg. It may lead to discomfort, pain and infection. It may make it difficult for patients to find clothes that fit. Lymphedema can also lead to skin infections. Fortunately, lymphedema can be treated through massage, exercise, bandaging and, in some cases, surgery. We spoke with plastic surgeons Mark Schaverien, M.D., and Ed Chang, M.D., to learn more. When does lymphedema occur? Lymphedema occurs when the lymphatic system doesn’t drain properly and fluid builds up. It often results after lymph nodes have been removed or become obstructed. Are certain patients more likely to develop lymphedema? Cancer patients who have lymph nodes removed are at risk for lymphedema. So are patients who receive radiation therapy. Patients who have had both radiation therapy and lymph nodes removed are at an even higher risk of developing lymphedema. Anyone can develop lymphedema, but it’s most common in breast cancer patients who have all or parts of their breast removed, along with lymph nodes. Lymphedema often occurs in patients with uterine, prostate, vulvar, ovarian cancers, lymphoma and melanoma, too. Patients who are overweight are also at increased risk for lymphedema. How is lymphedema diagnosed and treated? First, a doctor or lymphedema therapist will evaluate you and determine if you have lymphedema through a clinical exam. During this exam, they’ll measure the difference in size between limbs. In some cases, they may use scans, like MRIs and CTs, and ultrasounds, or a test called a lymphoscintigraphy in which dye is used to highlight the lymphatic system and illustrate blockages....