Potential side effects of breast cancer treatments

Treatments for breast cancer have evolved considerably in recent years. When breast cancer is detected early enough to be categorized as stage 0 or stage I, the five-year survival rate is 100 percent. That’s a testament to the hard work of cancer researchers who continue to develop effective ways to treat and defeat breast cancer.

As effective as cancer treatments can be, breast cancer patients may still experience some side effects during treatment. Side effects may depend on which course of treatment cancer patients and their physicians pursue, but the following are some potential side effects breast cancer patients may encounter during treatment.

Armpit discomfort

According to Breastcancer.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing up-to-date information about breast cancer, patients may develop armpit discomfort after lumpectomy, mastectomy or lymph node removal surgeries. This discomfort may be characterized by pain, swelling, tenderness, or numbness. The numbness may result when nerves in the armpit are cut during surgery, while tenderness or swelling may occur when surgeons have to remove some of the tissue under the surface of the skin. Patients who receive radiation therapy may develop irritation or soreness in the armpit because the skin of the armpit is so close to the breast.

Constipation

Some breast cancer patients experience constipation because their eating and exercise habits change during treatment. Constipation is a side effect of pain medications such as ibuprofen, so breast cancer patients relying on medication to alleviate some of the pain associated with their disease and treatment may experience constipation as a result. Chemotherapy and hormonal therapy are two breast cancer treatments known to cause constipation as well.

Dry skin

During treatment, breast cancer patients may experience dry skin that is uncomfortable and itchy. This side effect has been linked to chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormonal therapy. Dry skin tends to last as long as patients are in treatment, gradually subsiding once treatment has been completed.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis occurs when the cells that make up the endometrium, or the lining of the uterus, grow outside of the uterus. Hormonal therapy may stimulate the growth of endometrial cells, triggering endometriosis, which is most often found on or under the ovaries, behind the uterus or on the bowels or bladder. Endometriosis may cause pain, fertility problems or heavy menstrual periods. Physicians who suspect their patients have developed endometriosis may perform a laparoscopy, a surgical procedure in which a small cut is made over the abdomen. Once that cut is made, the surgeon will insert a thin tube equipped with a viewing instrument so he or she can look inside the uterus to determine if endometriosis has developed.

Memory loss

Breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormonal therapy may contribute to memory loss. Ovarian removal or shutdown may also result in memory loss. Memory loss may also result from medications taken during breast cancer treatment. Breast cancer patients who plan to continue working during treatment should discuss with their physicians how to manage potential memory loss and may benefit from informing their employers about the potential for treatment-related memory loss.

More information about potential breast cancer treatment side effects is available at www.breastcancer.org.

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