Can you manage cancer symptoms?

4 minute read time.
Can you manage cancer symptoms?

Symptoms caused by a health condition like cancer may affect your physical or mental well-being. These symptoms can include pain, sleeplessness, eating problems or fatigue. Cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms, of course, but for some people, it can. In this post, our cancer information nurse, Teresa Gonzales, walks us through some of the more general cancer symptoms and how to manage them.

Symptoms depend on your cancer type and can happen at any stage. They usually improve with cancer treatment, but some people may have ongoing symptoms or develop symptoms at a later stage. This may happen when the cancer has spread (advanced).

There are many ways to manage symptoms, so it is important to tell your doctor or nurse about any symptoms you have. They can assess you to find the best way to manage them, which might include using certain medicines or other treatments.

This blog looks at some of the symptoms you may have if you have cancer and suggests ways to help manage them.

Tiredness (fatigue)

Fatigue means feeling very tired or exhausted all or most of the time. It is a common symptom for people with cancer. It can be due to the cancer or its treatment, although other symptoms can also cause tiredness, including pain, shortness of breath, or a low red blood cell count (anaemia).

What can help?

  • Try to pace yourself and plan your day to have time to rest. Gentle exercise, like short walks, can give you more energy.
  • If you haven’t done so already, ask for help with housekeeping, shopping and preparing meals.
  • Eating well can help you keep or regain your strength and give you more energy.
  • Some people find complementary therapies can help. Always talk to your specialist nurse or doctor before you use complementary therapy. Some therapies may affect your cancer treatment.

We have more information about managing tiredness and also complementary therapies.

Difficulty sleeping

If you have difficulty sleeping (insomnia), it can be very frustrating and worsen other symptoms. There are some things your treatment team may be able to suggest trying to improve your sleep. It can sometimes help to take a short course of sleeping tablets to help you get into a better sleep pattern. But there are other things you can try to help you to get a better night’s sleep.

We have more information on ways to manage insomnia.

Managing Pain

 Pain can happen for different reasons. The cancer doctor or GP can assess the possible cause of the pain. This will help them know the best way to manage the pain. Different types of painkillers can be used to treat different types of pain. Some people find that non-drug treatments or complementary therapies can also help relieve pain and make coping easier. You may have a Macmillan or palliative care nurse who can provide emotional and practical support and help you to cope with pain.

We have more information on ways to manage pain. You may also find our audiobook on managing pain of interest.

Coping with eating problems

Many people find their treatment for cancer, or the cancer itself, can cause problems with eating, including sickness, appetite loss and a sore mouth. There are many ways the doctor or nurse can help you with these symptoms. They can help find ways to increase your food intake, which can also help your energy levels, and if necessary, can refer you to a dietician. 

We have more information on managing eating problems.

Controlling nausea and vomiting

There can be many different reasons for nausea. Your doctor will first find out the possible cause, which will help them to know how best to manage the nausea. There are different anti-sickness drugs that can be used. If you are unable to swallow a tablet, there are other ways you can have the drug. Relaxation exercises or taking part in activities that you find relaxing may also help you cope with nausea.

We have more information on ways to cope with nausea and vomiting.

Bladder and bowel problems

Bladder problems include needing to pass urine (pee) more often than usual, having pain when you pass urine, or having problems controlling your bladder. Bowel problems include having diarrhoea or constipation. Some types of cancer treatments can also cause bladder and bowel side effects.

We have more information about how to help manage bladder and bowel problems.


Breathlessness and coughing can be a symptom of primary lung cancer or secondary lung cancer. Although, there can be other causes. The way breathlessness is managed will depend on the cause. Sometimes cancer treatments may be used.

helpful. You can order a free CD or listen online.

All these symptoms and others are covered in more detail in our booklet ‘Managing symptoms of cancer’.

Some symptoms may be caused by treatments for cancer. We have separate information about side effects in our information side effects of cancer treatment.

You can also call our Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00. They are open every day, 8am - 8pm and offer confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones.

  • Hi 

    Thank you for your comment, my name is Rachel and I work as part of the Community team here at Macmillan. 

    I'm really glad to hear that you found this blog useful, and I hope you find all the information and support you may be needing at this time. 

    If you have any questions about the information in the above blog, or need support managing the symptoms of cancer, do know you can post a question to our Cancer Information Nurses here on the Community in our 'Ask a Nurse' session. 

    Once you have posted, one of our nurses will aim to respond to your question within 3 working days. Please know our 'Ask a nurse' session is only open Monday - Friday, so you will only be able to post a question within this time. 

    If you would like some support from our nursing team over the weekend, you can call our Macmillan Support Line 7 days a week 8am-8pm. That number is 0808 808 00 00, or you can connect with a nurse via our live webchat facility by clicking here and selecting 'Questions for a nurse' from the dropdown menu. 

    I hope this information is useful but if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get back in touch. 

    Take care, 

    Macmillan's Community team

  • I find feeling cold and shivery all the time difficult to cope with also my temperature fluctuates between 35.7 and 36.6. I am worried that I won't be able to cope in the winter months.

  • Hi ,

    Thank you for your comment, my name is Rachel and I work as part of the Community team here at Macmillan.

    I’m so sorry to hear that you are having a difficult time coping with a fluctuating temperature. That sounds really difficult and here on the team we would encourage you to reach out to your team at the hospital or GP if you are having any new, changing, or worsening symptoms.

    Do remember as well Cloe, that the NHS is available to support you 24/7 via the 111 service. Simply call 111 any time to speak to someone about how your concerns.

    I hope the above information is useful and that you are able to get the support you are looking for today.

    If you have any questions however, or need any further support, please don’t hesitate to get back in touch. You can either respond to my post below, or email the team directly at

    Take care,

    Macmillan’s Community team