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We have had many occasions to talk about the side effects of various treatments, conventional and complementary. The issue is critically important in deciding on treatment since many treatments can have severe consequences in both immediate (acute) and long-term (chronic) toxicity.

The U.S. government’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) has devised a “severity scale” of side effects, which are also called “AEs,” for adverse events. The government defines this as follows:

There are five grades of AEs.

As you investigate treatment options, you should pay attention to these criteria. They give a clue as to what you as an individual might experience from any particular treatment. Everything in life has its pluses and minuses, and of course, cancer treatments are no exception. There are often hidden “costs” of otherwise useful or even life-saving treatments.

  1. Grade 1: Mild; asymptomatic or mild symptoms; clinical or diagnostic observations only; intervention [i.e., treatment of the side effect] not indicated.
  2. Grade 2: Moderate; minimal, local, or noninvasive intervention indicated; limiting age-appropriate instrumental ADL. [ADL = activities of daily living]
  3. Grade 3: Severe: medically significant but not immediately life-threatening; hospitalization or prolongation of hospitalization indicated; disabling; limiting self-care and ADL.
  4. Grade 4: Life-threatening; urgent intervention indicated.
  5. Grade 5: Death related to AE [i.e., deadly side effects of the drug or other treatment].