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Physical side effects of cancer

Cancer and its physical side effects are different for each individual

The side effects experienced by someone depends on the area of the body affected by the cancer and the treatment course involved.

Treatment for cancer can be all or a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy and hormone therapy. As a result, cancer can be complex; some people will leave cancer behind and continue life with few health problems but many will have ongoing physical symptoms, often affecting their day to day life.

Some of the side effects of cancer that specialist oncology physiotherapy can help with during or after your treatment include:

Cancer related fatigue (CFR)

  • Cancer related fatigue is a huge issue, affecting 70-100% of cancer patients. It can be extremely debilitating.
    • Can persist for months or years following completion of treatment
    • Can interfere with simple activities of daily living
    • Hinder chances for remission
    • Affect ability to continue with treatment
    • Social and economic consequences
  • Many patients continue to believe that rest is vital for energy conservation during and after treatment however this has been shown to exacerbate the treatment related loss of function.
  • Physical activity in research continues to show no exacerbation of fatigue during treatment and significant improvement in fatigues levels post treatment.
  • It involves starting slowly and gradually building up – managing your ‘fatigue battery’.

General weakness or deconditioning
Reduced balance or coordination
Reduced mobility

Loss of muscle strength & fitness
(joint pain)

  • A very common symptom post certain chemotherapies as well as aromatase inhibitors


  • Physiotherapy can help improve your general exercise tolerance whilst teaching you management strategies to help pace your daily activities.

Osteoporosis (weakening of the bones)

  • Common amongst females & males who are completing hormone therapy for breast and prostate cancer.
  • A tailored exercise program can be designed in order to stimulate bone growth in safe weight bearing positions.

Weight changes (loss or gain)
Urinary and bowel changes

Peripheral neuropathy (tingling and/or numbness in hands and feet)

  • Common side effect seen with chemotherapy and aromatase inhibitors
  • Although physiotherapy can not directly impact this side effect, we are able to improve your mobility and balance which may be affected due to the neuropathy.

Reduced ability to perform everyday activities


  • Range of motion and strengthening exercises of the joints and spine
  • Posture and manual handling advice
  • Soft tissue and joint mobilisations
  • Neural mobilisations
  • Cording release
  • Scar tissue release
  • Restoring continence and sexual function

After treatment

  • Rehabilitation to get fitness and health back
  • Return to work and sport programme and advice
  • Cancer related fatigue and general wellbeing management
  • Pilates for regaining general core strength and strength of the upper and lower limbs

The specialist oncology team are based out of our Chelsea clinicMegan leads this sensitive, caring service.

If you would like to speak to any of them in confidence then please send an email with your contact details and one of them will get straight back to you.

We want to improve your quality of life to allow you to lead your best life.

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