Breast cancer occurs when breast cells grow out of control and form a tumor
in the breast. Cancerous or malignant tumors can spread to other parts of the
body. Breast cancer mainly affects women, but men can get it too.
Treatment for breast cancer can result in adverse side effects or
complications for anyone who is going through it. For example the use of chemotherapy
drugs come with a number of side effects. How your body reacts to a treatment
plan however, can be different from someone else. It all depends on the type of
breast cancer treatment being administered to you. Talk to your doctor if you
experience any side effects or complications while being treated for breast
Chemotherapy attacks rapidly dividing cells. Cancer cells, along with skin
cells, and digestive tract cells are the most vulnerable to chemotherapy
medication. This can lead to hair loss, nausea, and vomiting. Doctors often
will prescribe you additional medications during chemotherapy to reduce or
relieve nausea and vomiting. Other side effects include:
- sleep disturbances
Many of these side
effects can be attributed to low blood counts. This is a common occurrence during
chemotherapy because the dividing blood cells in bone marrow are also
prone to damage from medications used in this type of treatment. In rare cases,
some chemotherapy drugs can cause heart damage or trigger another cancer such
Chemotherapy in premenopausal women may damage ovaries to the point that
they stop producing hormones. This can cause early menopausal symptoms such as
vaginal dryness and hot flashes. Menstrual periods may stop or become irregular.
Getting pregnant may also become difficult. Women who experience chemotherapy-
induced menopause may also face a higher risk of osteoporosis.
Most people find that side effects go away after the treatment is finished. However
the emotional distress of the experience may also cause the physical side
effects to feel more intense Some may have issues with concentration and memory
loss, known as “chemo-brain,” “chemo-fog,” or “chemo-memory.” This is usually
Psychological side effects of chemotherapy and breast cancer itself also
- feelings of isolation
- sleep disturbances
Some people have a difficult time readjusting to the lifestyle they had
before treatment. Thoughts of a relapse can be daunting. Talking with a therapist,
support groups, or regular contact with a loved one during this period is recommended.
Radiation therapy can result in more serious side effects. These can develop
slowly. But over time, the side effects, that at first, seemed manageable can
become debilitating. Serious complications include:
- inflamed lung tissue
- heart damage
- secondary cancers
These side effects are very rare. More common but less serious ones include
skin burns, irritation or discoloration, fatigue, and lymphedema.
Some types of hormone therapy lower estrogen levels in women, and increase
the risk for osteoporosis. Your doctor may monitor your bone mineral density
while you're taking this medication. Lower estrogen levels also may lead to
vaginal dryness and irritation. Other kinds of hormonal therapy increase your
risk of blood clots and endometrial cancer.
A mastectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of the breast. According
Hopkins Medicine, complications include:
- temporary swelling of the breast
- breast tenderness
- hardness due to scar tissue that can form at the site
of the incision
- wound infection or bleeding
- swelling of the arm due to lymph node removal, called lymphedema
- phantom breast pain, including symptoms such as unpleasant
itching, a sensation of “pins and needles,” pressure, and throbbing
A mastectomy also has psychological implications. Some women may find it
distressing to lose one or both breasts. You may also experience depression or
anxiety following the surgery. It’s essential to address these feelings through
therapy, a support group, or other means.
You may choose to have reconstructive breast surgery following a mastectomy
in order to retain the same physical appearance prior to the procedure. Others
may prefer to use breast prostheses to achieve the same results.
There are many different options available for treating breast cancer, each
with their own benefits and complications. Talk to your doctor about which
treatment option is best for you. After you begin treatment, be sure to tell
your doctor of any side effects and complications you experience.