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Side Effect: Dehydration

What is Dehydration?

Dehydration is a common concern for cancer patients undergoing treatment. It occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in, leading to a lack of water and essential electrolytes. This condition can be triggered by many factors, including treatment side effects, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and the underlying cancer itself. Dehydration is a serious issue that can lead to hospitalization, treatment delays, and worsened outcomes for patients with cancer.

What does Dehydration look like?

Dehydration can present in many ways. Recognizing these signs is important so treatment can be started quickly.
Some common signs include:


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Who gets Dehydration?

Cancer and its treatment can lead to dehydration through various mechanisms, such as:

How to prevent Dehydration

Preventing dehydration is important to decrease the severity of treatment side effects and avoid missed or delayed cancer treatments. Here are some strategies to prevent dehydration:

How to treat Dehydration

The treatment of dehydration in cancer patients depends on how severe it is. Mild dehydration can often be managed by increasing fluid intake, while severe cases may require hospitalization and intravenous (IV) fluids. If dehydration is caused by certain medications, it is important to stop those medications, if possible. In some cases, electrolytes may be given to replace the electrolytes that have been lost. Identifying the underlying cause of dehydration is essential for proper treatment. In some cases, it may be recommended to talk to a dietician to determine your specific fluid needs.


1. Weinberg AD and Minaker KL. Dehydration. Evaluation and Management in Older Adults. Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association. JAMA 1995;274(19):1552-1556

2. Bruera E, Hui D, Dalal S, et al. Parenteral hydration in patients with advanced cancer: a multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial. J Clin Oncol 2013;31(1):111-118

3. Wu CY, Chen PJ, Ho TL, et al. To hydrate or not to hydrate? The Effect of Hydration on Survival, Symptoms, and Quality of Dying Among Terminally Ill Cancer Patients. BMC Palliat Care 2021;20(1):13

4. Burge, FI. Dehydration Symptoms of Palliative Care Cancer Patients. J Pain Symptom Manage 1993;8(7):454-464

Created: January 20, 2024 Updated: January 25, 2024