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Coping with the symptoms of advanced melanoma

Men and women discussing melanoma skin cancer

This page tells you about coping with the symptoms of advanced melanoma. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Coping with the symptoms of advanced melanoma

People with advanced melanoma can have different symptoms depending on where in the body it has spread to.

It is possible to control many of the symptoms of advanced melanoma. The best thing you can do is to let your doctors and nurses know if you have any of these symptoms. They are there to help you and want you to be as comfortable as possible. Do talk to them and let them know exactly how you feel. This will help them plan the best symptom management for you.

 

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The symptoms

People with advanced melanoma can have different symptoms depending on where in the body it has spread to. There is information about where melanoma can spread to in this section.

It is possible to control many of the symptoms of advanced melanoma. The best thing you can do is to let your doctors and nurses know if you have any of these symptoms. They are there to help you and want you to be as comfortable as possible. Do talk to them and let them know exactly how you feel. This will help them plan the best symptom management for you.

 

Pain

Having advanced cancer doesn’t always mean that you will have pain. But sometimes it can. This can be very hard to cope with. There is a lot that can be done to help control the pain caused by advanced cancer. On this website is a whole section about pain control. The pages you may find most useful are

 

Fatigue

Fatigue means extreme tiredness. It can affect you mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Everyday life becomes hard work and you may find yourself not having enough energy to cook, eat, clean, bath, or go shopping. You may even find it hard to talk to your friends and family. Many people with cancer suffer from this symptom. There is more information about cancer fatigue in the section on coping physically with cancer.

 

Weight loss and loss of appetite

There may be a particular cause for your loss of appetite. Being in a lot of pain and short of breath can stop you wanting to eat. Or it may just be that you feel too tired or fed up to bother eating much.

Losing weight is often related to loss of appetite. But this may not the only reason. You may be eating normally but still losing weight. Your body may not be absorbing all the fat, protein and carbohydrate from the food you eat. This can be very upsetting and worrying. It can be a constant reminder of your illness and can affect how you feel about yourself.

The important thing to remember is, don't worry too much about what you eat. If you feel like eating something in particular, have it. And drink as much liquid as you can. 

You may find it helpful to

  • Try to eat small amounts of high protein and high calorie foods every 2 or 3 hours instead of 3 large meals a day
  • Ask friends and relatives to prepare meals for you, as cooking can put you off eating
  • Add extra calories and protein to foods (using butter, milk, honey and cheese)
  • Some people prefer to avoid fried foods or foods with a strong smell
  • Eat cold or slightly warm food if the smell of cooking puts you off eating
  • Prepare and store small servings of your favourite foods ahead of time, so there is something to eat when you do feel hungry
  • Don't be afraid to try out new foods and tastes
  • Avoid getting over tired as you will find everything more difficult to cope with if you are exhausted
  • Avoid filling your stomach with a large amount of liquid before eating
  • If you are worried about losing weight, ask your doctor or nurse to prescribe a high calorie liquid food supplement (meal in a drink)
  • Try eating in the mornings as people tend to feel more like eating in the morning than in the evenings
  • Ask the hospital or community dietician for hints on preparing simple foods that are easy to digest
  • If you really don't feel like eating, at least drink as often as you can
 

Bowel problems

Bowel problems such as diarrhoea and constipation are common in advanced cancer. These problems may happen because of the changes your melanoma is causing to your body. Or they may happen because of side effects from cancer treatments and other drugs such as painkillers. Whatever the cause, this can sometimes be difficult to control. But there are things that can be done to help.

If you have bad diarrhoea, remember you can easily become dehydrated. Try to drink plenty. If you cannot drink enough, or you think you are losing more fluid in diarrhoea than you can replace by drinking, you must tell your doctor or nurse. If you have diarrhoea after treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy tell your doctor or nurse. They can give you tablets to take with your next lot of treatment. These will help to reduce the diarrhoea. You may also want to ask about soothing creams to apply around your anus. The skin in this area can become very sore and broken with severe diarrhoea.

Tell your doctor or nurse if you don't have your bowels open for more than 3 days and are finding it difficult to open them. Constipation is easier to sort out if it is treated early. Your doctor can prescribe mild laxatives to help. It may also help to drink plenty of fluids and eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you can. If you can't manage the food, don't worry too much, but make sure you do drink.

Unfortunately, some anti sickness medicines and painkillers such as opioids can make constipation worse. Some chemotherapy drugs or biological therapy drugs can also cause constipation. This is because the drug affects the nerve supply to the bowel for a while.

If you have any changes in your bowel habits, let your doctor or nurse know straight away. They can prescribe medicines to help with both diarrhoea and constipation. You can find information about coping with bowel problems in the section about coping physically with cancer.

 

Feeling or being sick

The most common causes of sickness in people with advanced cancer are

  • A blockage in the bowel
  • Constipation
  • Not having enough fluid in your body (dehydration)
  • Chemical imbalances inside your body

There is information about these causes of sickness on the controlling sickness in advanced cancer page of the sickness section.

 

Shortness of breath

You may hear your doctor or nurse call this dyspnoea (pronounced disp-nee-a). Shortness of breath happens when your lungs are not taking in enough oxygen. Your heart cannot then pump enough oxygen to your body in your blood. If your melanoma has spread to your lungs you may have problems with breathing.

Being very short of breath is not usually dangerous or harmful but it can make you feel very anxious and panicky, which often makes it even harder to catch your breath. Being short of breath can have a big impact on how much you can do each day. You may be too breathless to shower, cook, or even eat.

Signs that you are breathless can include

  • Having difficulty catching your breath
  • Noisy breathing
  • Taking very fast, shallow breaths
  • An increase in your pulse rate
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Skin looking pale and slightly blue, especially around your mouth
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Flaring nostrils when you breathe in
  • Using your shoulders and the muscles in your upper chest to help you breathe

If you think you have any signs of breathlessness, let your doctor or specialist nurse know as soon as possible. You may be worried that your breathlessness means your cancer is getting worse. This might be true but is not always the case. It is very likely that your doctor can give you some treatment to help your breathing.

There is information about breathing problems in the section about coping physically with cancer.

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Updated: 24 January 2014