Breast Cancer Treatment Side Effects

Some breast cancer treatments can cause temporary side effects that stop soon after treatment finishes. However, your treatment may also cause short or longer-term side effects. Chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer destroy constantly dividing breast cancer cells. But these treatments can also affect healthy cells. Medications and other self-help methods can help ease many of these side effects: Loss of appetite, Nausea and vomiting, Weakness and fatigue, Mouth soreness, Hair loss, Weight gain, Premature menopause, Lowered resistance to infections, Bleeding and Diarrhea. This section looks at some of the physical and emotional effects of breast cancer and its treatments and gives practical information about coping with them.

Sexuality and Intimacy is the major side effect in breast cancer women. Many women find sex and intimacy difficult after a breast cancer diagnosis. A serious illness in either partner can disrupt a sexual and intimate relationship, but breast cancer can cause unique problems. For example, some treatments can cause pain and sensitivity, while others can lead to menopausal symptoms, such as vaginal dryness. You may feel your body has betrayed you. And, after months of treatment, you may feel detached or disconnected from the pleasure your body once gave you. Body image issues may also affect how you view sex, as well as your sexuality. Exercise has been shown to help improve sexuality and body image concerns among breast cancer survivors. And, some research findings suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (a special type of mental health counseling that may also combine techniques such as relaxation exercises) may improve sexual functioning for breast cancer survivors.

Lymphedema is a potential side effect of breast cancer surgery and radiation therapy that can appear in some people during the months or even years after treatment ends. Lymph is a thin, clear fluid that circulates throughout the body to remove wastes, bacteria, and other substances from tissues. Edema is the buildup of excess fluid. So lymphedema occurs when too much lymph collects in any area of the body. If lymphedema develops in people who’ve been treated for breast cancer, it usually occurs in the arm and hand, but sometimes it affects the breast, underarm, chest, trunk, and/or back. Why does lymphedema happen? As part of their surgery, many people with breast cancer have at least two or three lymph nodes removed from under the arm (sentinel lymph node biopsy), and sometimes many more nodes (axillary lymph node dissection). If the cancer has spread, it has most likely moved into to those underarm lymph nodes first because they drain lymph from the breast. Many people also need radiation therapy to the chest area and/or underarm. Surgery and radiation can cut off or damage some of the nodes and vessels through which lymph moves. Although there’s no way to know for sure whether you’ll develop lymphedema after breast cancer, you can help yourself by learning more about it. Know your risk factors, take steps to reduce your risk, and be aware of early symptoms. Left untreated, lymphedema can worsen and cause severe swelling and permanent changes to the tissues under the skin, such as thickening and scarring. With care, lymphedema can often be avoided or, if it develops, kept under control. Injury or infection involving the affected arm or hand can contribute to the development of lymphedema or make existing lymphedema worse, so preventive measures should focus on protecting the arm and hand.

Chemotherapy and radiation destroy breast cancer cells. But these treatments can also affect healthy cells and can change how you feel. They might cause:

Loss of appetite

Nausea and vomiting

Weakness and fatigue

Mouth sores

Hair loss

Weight gain

Early menopause

A higher risk of infections

Bleeding

Diarrhea

  • Lymphedema after Breast Cancer Therapy
  • Breast Cancer treatment and Menopausal Symptoms
  • Lifestyle Changes after Treatment

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