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Side Effect Management

What is a side effect?

A side effect is a new or worsening reaction your body has to a new medication or treatment. Some are mild, but others can be life-threatening if not managed well. All can impact your health and daily life.

Key Takeaway:

When it comes to side effects, everyone is different. Keep your doctor informed of any changes you experience.

Important Items to Remember:

  • Know that every treatment comes with some risk for side effects
  • The side effects can vary from person to person.
  • Not everyone will have a side effect – you can have none, 1, or several with the level of severity and duration being different in different people 

Why is it important to discuss possible side effects with my doctor before starting treatment?

You need to know what to expect from your treatment so you can make an informed decision and prepare you to manage any side effects that may occur. Any risk for side effects should be balanced with both the chance of success in treating your cancer and being able to living your best quality of life (which can mean different things to different people). Knowing what to expect can help lower anxiety if/when that side effect occurs.

If there are particular side effects you are worried about from that list or side effects you didn’t hear mentioned, ask your doctor to talk about how those particular problems might be handled if they occur. Knowing what to expect can help lower anxiety if/when that side effect occurs.

Key Takeaway:

Discuss possible side effects with your doctor prior to treatment and request written materials.

Prior to Treatment:

  • Have a detailed discussion with your healthcare provider and ask for written materials
  • Obtain a list of known side effects, how likely they are to happen, and how severe they could be

How do I watch for side effects?

Keep track of any side effects. A simple calendar or notebook can help. You may notice changes in those side effects as you continue treatment. Be ready to ask for help to deal with those side effects when they happen and do not wait until the next visit to do so. Continue to track your symptoms (old or new) throughout your treatment and even for a while after stopping treatment so you can continue to talk to your doctor about any changes. Some of the key things to write down are:

Key Takeaway:

Use a calendar, journal or notepad to keep track of your side effects.

What is your symptom?

Note what part of your body is affected and a description of how it feels. What were you doing when the symptom started? Did you do anything to try and make it stop? Did it work?

When did it start or stop?

This can be a date or a time of day (morning/night), Write down how it changes each day (morning versus night or after eating versus on an empty stomach).

How bad was it?

You can rate this on a scale of 1-5 or describe how it feels using words like sharp/dull/throbbing/stabbing – whatever works for you to help compare different side effects.

Click below for a printable tracker for your side effects:

What should I do if I notice a side effect?

Report side effects as soon as you can. This is never silly, or an inconvenience and can be helpful during your treatment. The sooner your healthcare team knows what is happening, the sooner they can help manage them. If you cannot reach your doctor and the side effect is severe, go to the emergency room. Be ready to explain your diagnosis, treatment, and side effects. Carry information about your medications with you to help communicate this.

Key Takeaway:

Report ANY side effects as soon as possible to your doctor.

What will my doctor do if I have a side effect?

Having a side effect does not mean your treatment isn’t working or that you have to stop treatment. Your doctor will work with you to understand how you can live the best possible quality of life while receiving effective treatment. Your doctor may try different things to make the side effect get better or go away, including:

Key Takeaway:

Reporting a side effect does not mean the end of treatment.


Your doctor may prescribe medication to help make you feel better. Do not take medications yourself to treat a side effect without talking to your doctor. Some medications could interfere with the cancer treatment or make your symptoms worse

Pausing Your Treatment

This slight break can help your body recover, and you can resume again when you feel better

Changing the Dosage

Your doctor may be able to adjust how much or how often you are taking your medication so that the chance of a side effect decreases as you continue treatment

Emotional Care

Your physical health isn’t the only thing that can be affected by kidney cancer treatment. A kidney cancer diagnosis can also affect the mental health and emotional well-being of patients as well as caregivers.

Let your healthcare team know about your feelings and concerns so they can refer you to someone who can help. Supportive emotional and mental care are important for anyone struggling to cope with kidney cancer. You don’t have to do it alone.

Key Takeaway:

Let your healthcare team know about your feelings and concerns.

Questions to ask your doctor:

  1. What are the most common side effects I should expect with this medication? How likely are those to occur? How may you handle them if I experience them? 
  2. What are the most worrisome side effects I should expect with this medication? Which side effects would signal an emergency? How likely are those to occur? How may you handle them if I experience them? 
  3. What are my alternatives (changing medications, changing doses, etc.) if I cannot deal with these side effects?
  4.  What type of information would be helpful for you to know if I have a side effect? Is there anything I can do on my own to reduce the chances of a side effect occurring? 
  5. Who can I call or email after hours, between visits, or in an emergency if I have questions along the way?
  6. Is there any instance where I shouldn’t notify you of a possible problem?
  7. Will anyone be checking in on me periodically in-between visits, or is it my responsibility to notify you?
  8. If I begin to feel overwhelmed, do you have someone you recommend to talk to?
  9. If I develop a side effect that interferes with living my life daily, what are my options?

Here are some general tips to help with your overall health during cancer treatment:


Talk to your healthcare team. It is the most important part of managing your side effects. Your doctor or nurse should be able to help connect you to other specialists when needed.

Water Intake

Drink plenty of fluids, about ten 8-ounce glasses each day

Balanced Nutrition

Eat a nutritious and balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains foods (limiting overly fatty, starchy, or processed foods)

Physical Activity

Engage in regular physical activity. Even 5 minutes a day, can benefit your physical and mental health. Consult your doctor on when and how to begin physical activity safely.


This has been shown to help relieve anxiety, stress, fatigue and improve sleep and mood for some patients

Emotional Support

Find a support system within your friends, family or community. Or join a support group like KCA Connect to connect with other patients and caregivers

Palliative & Supportive Care

Palliative care focuses on helping patients with their side effects and other cancer symptoms.

This resource and its translation are made possible with the generous support of: