Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment
Different people react differently to various modes of treatment. The good news is that majority of the treatment related side effects are reversible with the benefits enormously out weighing the side effects.
Chemotherapy given to destroy cancer cells may also destroy healthy cells. Common side effects include:
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme tiredness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and fatigue
- Mouth sores
- Hair loss or thinning
- Dry skin and brittle nails
- Weight gain
- Early menopause
- Higher risk of infections
Drugs may be changed or symptomatic treatment given
- Lymphedema: lymph is a fluid which contains white blood cells that help fight infection. Lymph vessels carry lymph throughout the body and at intervals form into lymph nodes. When the lymph nodes in the armpit are removed during surgery, lymph collects in the arm, which may enlarge in size. In severe cases it can limit movement and be painful. This can also occur during radiation therapy. To reduce the swelling or prevent worsening, perform arm and shoulder exercises, as this helps the lymph drain. Lymphedema is seen in 10-15% cases with only 3-5 % being affected by severe forms of it.
- Pain may occur at the areas surrounding the tissues handled during breast surgery. This is a shooting or burning pain.
Radiation therapy: Side effects depend on the type of skin, dose of radiation given and co-existing skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, scleroderma etc.
- Skin reactions like sunburn, darkening, tenderness and/ or itching in the treatment area occur around 10-14 days of starting treatment
- Sometimes, sore, moist and weepy skin reactions occur
- Swelling of the breast, mild pain in the breast or sharp twinges may occur
- Shoulder or underarm pain may occur.
- Hair loss in the armpit area
- Damage to the nerves causing tingling, numbness, weakness or loss of movement
Wash the area radiated gently with warm water and pat dry with a soft towel. Do not scrub. Do not use hot water bottles or cold packs on the area. Avoid exposure to sun and sweating and wear loose fitting clothes. Exercise your shoulder and arm to prevent stiffness
Hormone therapy: These side effects usually go away with continued use. Different people respond differently to different medication
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood changes
- Joint pain