Advances in cancer treatment are delivering better outcomes to patients. And these innovations aren’t limited to treating cancer. Today, researchers and oncologists are finding – and delivering – medical breakthroughs to help people better manage common side effects from cancer treatments.

“Side effects can really vary among individuals, based on their cancer diagnosis, treatment plan and how their body responds to the course of action,” explains Manish Agrawal, MD, cancer committee chairman for Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. “Fortunately, we know a lot more about effective ways to treat these side effects, including taking a holistic, integrative and sometimes unconventional approach.”

Dr. Agrawal shares his advice to help individuals manage side effects from cancer treatments.

Focus on mental health

A cancer diagnosis can bring on a lot of psychological distress, and understandably so. Patients can become quickly overwhelmed– from worrying about how they will physically, mentally and financially manage treatment to facing uncertainty about their future.

“We are becoming more and more attuned to the anxiety and trepidation that surrounds a cancer diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr. Agrawal. “People have legitimate fears about what this is going to do to their lives and are worried about losing their hair, becoming fatigued and battling other side effects of treatment.”

“We have found that when patients acknowledge that fear and work through it with a psychologist or mental health professional, they are able to take a little more control over it, so that it doesn’t take over every aspect of their lives,” he explains.

A dedicated psychologist is available at the Shady Grove Adventist Aquilino Cancer Center to support patients during diagnosis, treatment and into survivorship. He works closely with patients to understand their concerns and anxieties. Together, they can develop a plan to help manage those worries. That may include talking through anxieties with a trusted friend, meditation, yoga, mindfulness or regular physical activity.

Be open to unconventional approaches

“The medicines we have today to help patients manage the many symptoms related to cancer treatments, including nausea, are really very good,” says Dr. Agrawal. “But, when conventional approaches fail to bring relief – or to the degree you were hoping for – it’s important to be open to what may seem like an unconventional approach.”

One of Dr. Agrawal’s first recommendations to many of his patients is to see Dr. Laurie Herscher, director of Shady Grove’s Integrative Medicine Program. She works closely with patients to help reteach the body how to respond to cancer treatments and its symptoms. She may recommend changes to a patient’s diet or acupuncture to help find relief.

Another exciting advancement soon to be available at the Cancer Center is access to a palliative care expert. Palliative care focuses on finding relief for symptoms from serious diseases, including cancer.

“As cancer treatment has become more targeted and tailored to specific individual’s needs, symptoms and side effects are becoming more varied and complex,” explains Dr. Agrawal. “A palliative care physician is someone who specializes in symptom management and can help patients manage their symptoms.”

Stay active

The intervention with the most data to support its success is one that’s available without a prescription: exercise. Physical activity can increase your energy levels, relieve stress and has many other health benefits for your body, mind and soul.

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