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Managing Long-Term Side Effects

Comprehensive, evidence-based survivorship care can help survivors lead healthy, active and fulfilling lives. Ongoing surveillance and a wide range of strategies and services are available through the Cancer Survivorship Institute to help you manage new, unexpected challenges such as long-term or late effects after cancer treatment.

 Chronic Pain

More than one-third of cancer patients who undergo surgery, radiation or chemotherapy will experience chronic pain. Pain can be associated with your cancer, the treatments you received or other causes.

Our pain program includes an in-depth evaluation, the use of medications and non-pharmacologic therapies, along with extensive education to help you and your family best understand this pain and its treatment. Specialists from other disciplines may be consulted to build a multidisciplinary team to help meet your pain-related goals.

Options to manage the pain may include:

  • Medications, either topical or oral
  • Heat or ice
  • Massage
  • Exercises for relaxation
  • Physical therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Procedures to alleviate pain

 Contact our cancer pain specialist and palliative care team at 312-695-0990 for more information.

 Counseling & Emotional Support

The Supportive Oncology team provides emotional and practical support for patients and their loved ones during all stages of cancer care and into recovery. As a patient, you will have access to psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, nurse navigators and more. 

 Emotional Distress

We provide emotional and practical support for patients and their families during all stages of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Our multidisciplinary team is dedicated to listening and responding to patient concerns, promoting well-being and treating each individual with respect and compassion. 

 Fatigue

Fatigue is a common problem that affects survivors of all types of cancers and can cause significant distress. Try the following suggestions to help with the management of fatigue:

  • Plan your day.
  • Schedule activities during times when you have more energy.
  • Pace yourself during activity.
  • Choose how to spend your energy. Perform tasks you must perform and consider putting off less important tasks for another day.
  • Take short breaks or rest between periods of activity.
  • Let others help you.
  • Evaluate how you perform certain tasks and consider ways you can alter them to conserve energy. For example, try sitting instead of standing for certain household tasks like cooking or washing dishes.
  • Exercise. Even if it is just starting with five-minute walks once or twice a day, increasing your activity level will help improve symptoms of fatigue.

Your healthcare provider can give you specific direction based on your individual therapy and situation.

 Fertility

The Lurie Cancer Center is committed to ensuring that every patient undergoing a treatment or procedure that could threaten their reproductive future is offered an oral and written explanation of their fertility preservation options.

Patients have access to the services of Northwestern’s full-time Fertility Preservation Navigator, dedicated to helping them understand and explore available options for preserving fertility before, during and after treatment.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 312-503-3378.

 Genetics

When diagnosed with a cancer, patients and families often wonder if they are at risk of developing another cancer or passing a risk down to their kids. Our cancer genetics team offers individualized cancer risk assessment and management recommendations to individuals and families.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 312-695-0320.

 Health Insurance & Financial Counseling

Managing finances, employment and health insurance can be difficult under the best of circumstances. Adding cancer to the mix can make the prospect overwhelming. The Lurie Cancer Center’s social workers are available to help connect patients and caregivers with up-to-date information and resources.

Financial counselors offer assistance with billing and reimbursement concerns, as well as enrollment in financial assistance and free medication programs.

 Integrative Medicine

The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University offers a full range of complementary and integrative therapies, combining conventional and complementary therapies to aid in the healing process. Their therapies engage the mind, body, spirit and community and focus on lifestyle choices. Whether your cancer was recently diagnosed or is currently in remission, the potential benefits of the integrative healing approach are varied and significant.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 312-926-3627.

 Memory Problems

Cancer survivors who receive chemotherapy or radiation could have difficulty with their memory or concentration. Potential techniques to help manage this often-distressing symptom include:

  • Use organizational strategies such as planners, notes and checklists
  • Take note of specific times of the day when your concentration is the best and try to get tasks done at that time
  • Relaxation and stress management
  • Make sure that your sleep and fatigue are well managed
  • Routine physical activity
  • Limit use of alcohol or other agents that can impact your cognition or sleep
  • Meditation, yoga and mindfulness techniques

Your healthcare provider can give you specific direction based on your individual therapy and situation.

 Neuropathy

Many people have an ongoing numbness or tingling called peripheral neuropathy in their hands or feet as a result of damage to the nerves caused by chemotherapy. Please talk with your physician if this is significantly impacting your daily activities or your balance.

 Nutrition

The Lurie Cancer Center’s team of registered dietitians provides up-to-date, research-based nutrition advice throughout cancer treatment and into recovery. Once treatment is complete, nutrition remains an important part of survivorship. Our experts provide therapy for a variety of problems including problems with eating and digestion, changes in taste and weight management.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 312-695-0990.

 Older Patients

Our Adult Survivorship Clinics provide tailored assessments for all older patients, as older cancer survivors have a unique set of physical, emotional and social needs.

We have a multidisciplinary geriatric team consisting of oncologists, a geriatrician, advanced practice providers with experience in geriatric medicine, social workers, nutritionists, psychiatrists and pharmacists. The tailored older adult visit includes a complete physical exam, cognitive assessment, vision and hearing screening, functional assessment, nutritional assessment and assessment of any social support needs.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 312-695-0990.

 Oncodermatology

Cancer treatments can impact your skin and appearance, which can be distressing. Our oncodermatology team specializes in treatment strategies for skin conditions in cancer patients and survivors, as well as skin complications from chemotherapy.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 312-695-8106.

 Palliative Care

The Northwestern Medicine palliative medicine team helps you manage the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of a serious illness. We tailor our services to your needs and provide support to loved ones who have a critical role in your health and well-being at any stage of illness.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 312-926-0001.

 Rehabilitation & Physical Functioning

The effects of cancer and corresponding treatments can impact your energy and activity level. Cancer survivors can benefit from an integrated and personalized rehabilitation program to help them return to their greatest level of ability. The experts at the Cancer Rehabilitation Program of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab directly address the physical, cognitive and emotional concerns caused by the disease and treatment, both during and following acute cancer treatment

For information or to schedule an appointment, call 312-238-1000.

 Second Cancers

Many cancer survivors are concerned about their risk of developing a second cancer. The risk depends on the type of treatment you received for your cancer, your family history and genetics, your lifestyle (e.g., tobacco use) and any environmental exposures you may have had.

Some important tips to reduce your risk of a second cancer include:

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Engage in regular physical activity.
  • Maintain a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains with limited red or processed meat, sugars and fats.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
  • Avoid tobacco products.
  • Practice good sun safety to reduce your risk of skin cancer from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  • Follow up with your primary care provider regularly to be sure you are following all health screenings and cancer screening recommendations that are appropriate for someone your age.

 Sexual Health

Cancer and cancer treatment can affect the sexual health of both men and women.

The Integrated Pelvic Health Program of Northwestern Medicine includes a team of specialists who work together to address the physical, mental and emotional aspects that affect sexual health in women. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 312-926-4747.

The Sexual Dysfunction Program provides a multi-dimensional and complete evaluation for men with erectile dysfunction and ejaculatory disturbances. For more information or to schedule an appointment call 312-695-8146.

Following surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, many patients will experience changes in their ability or comfort with sexual activity.

Many women experience vaginal changes after completing treatment for cancer. Menopause and medications used to treat cancer can decrease estrogen levels and cause vaginal dryness.

This may result in:

  • Discomfort or pain during intercourse
  • Vaginal irritation
  • Change in vaginal discharge
  • Urinary symptoms such as urgency, frequency or incontinence

Here are some tips for improving vaginal health:

  • Vaginal lubricants can be used to improve comfort during sexual activity.
  • Regular use of vaginal moisturizers, which can be purchased over the counter, can help with vaginal dryness.
  • Use of vaginal dilators or vibrators can help to maintain vaginal elasticity.

Follow up with your healthcare provider for other possible treatment options.

 Sleep Problems

Insomnia is a common concern during cancer treatment and throughout survivorship. It’s important to practice good sleep hygiene. Here are some tips:

  • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Try to avoid daytime napping.
  • Exercise regularly for at least 20 minutes, preferably several hours prior to bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol four hours prior to bedtime.
  • Do not go to bed hungry, but avoid large meals prior to bedtime.
  • Associate your bedroom with sleep. Avoid radios, television and reading in the bedroom.
  • Make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Use relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing or a warm bath prior to bedtime.
  • If you cannot fall asleep after 15 to 20 minutes, get up, go into  another room and do a quiet activity (read, have a light snack) until you feel tired. Avoid stimulating activities such as television, computers, office work or house work.

Follow up with your healthcare provider if this is a persistent problem or causing you significant distress.

 Smoking Cessation

Smoking is a very serious risk factor for many cancers as well as many chronic medical conditions. The Tobacco Cessation Group Program offers a comprehensive approach to help you to stop smoking and reduce your risk of developing a second cancer.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 312-926-2069.

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