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Home > Comman Type of Cancer > Side Effects of Breast Cancer treatments

Side Effects of Breast Cancer treatments

Side Effects of treatments

It is hard to protect healthy cells from the harmful effects of breast cancer treatments. Because treatment does damage healthy cells and tissues, it causes side effects. The side effects of cancer treatment depend mainly on the type and extent of the treatment. Also, the effects may not be the same for each person, and they may be different from one treatment to the next. An important part of the treatment plan is the management of side effects.

A patient's reaction to treatment is closely monitored by physical exams, blood tests, and other tests. Doctors and nurses will explain the possible side effects of treatment, and they can suggest ways to deal with problems that may occur during and after treatment. The NCI provides helpful, informative booklets about breast cancer treatments and coping with side effects.

Breast Cancer Surgery

Surgery for breast cancer causes short-term pain and tenderness in the area of the operation, so women may need to talk with their doctor about pain management. Any kind of surgery also carries a risk of infection, poor wound healing, bleeding, or a reaction to the anesthesia used during surgery. Women who experience any of these problems should tell their doctor or nurse right away.

Removal of a breast can cause a woman's weight to be out of balance -- especially if she has large breasts. This imbalance can cause discomfort in her neck and back. Also, the skin in the area where the breast was removed may be tight, and the muscles of the arm and shoulder may feel stiff. After a mastectomy, some women have some permanent loss of strength in these muscles, but for most women, reduced strength and limited movement are temporary. The doctor, nurse, or physical therapist can recommend exercises to help a woman regain movement and strength in her arm and shoulder.Because nerves may be injured or cut during surgery, a woman may have numbness and tingling in the chest, underarm, shoulder, and upper arm. These feelings usually go away within a few weeks or months, but some women have permanent numbness.

Removing the lymph nodes under the arm slows the flow of lymph. In some women, this fluid builds up in the arm and hand and causes swelling (lymphedema). Women need to protect the arm and hand on the treated side from injury or pressure, even long after surgery. They should ask the doctor how to handle any cuts, scratches, insect bites, or other injuries to the arm or hand. Also, they should contact the doctor if an infection develops in that arm or hand.

 Breast Cancer treatments: Radiation Therapy

During radiation therapy, patients may become extremely tired, especially after several treatments. This feeling may continue for a while after treatment is over. Resting is important, but doctors usually advise their patients to try to stay reasonably active, matching their activities to their energy level.

It is also common for the skin in the treated area to become red, dry, tender, and itchy. The breast may feel heavy and hard, but these conditions will clear up with time. Toward the end of treatment, the skin may become moist and "weepy." Exposing this area to air as much as possible will help the skin heal. Because bras and some types of clothing may rub the skin and cause irritation, patients may want to wear loose-fitting cotton clothes. Gentle skin care is important at this time, and patients should check with their doctor before using any deodorants, lotions, or creams on the treated area. These effects of radiation therapy on the skin are temporary, and the area gradually heals once treatment is over. However, there may be a permanent change in the color of the skin.
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