Breast cancer is one of the most witnessed cancers affecting the lives of millions, including women and men. Like any cancer, breast cancer adversely affects your body and mind.
From the time a person is diagnosed with this dreadful condition to the treatment and its after-effects, they witness numerous changes in their regular lives. In an effort to help cancer survivors, this page provides information to spread awareness about the effects of breast cancer and ways to deal with these effects. It is an attempt to join hands with the victims and be their guiding source to shape a better future.
Physical Effects of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is diagnosed with the effects and symptoms in a person’s body, followed by the effects of the treatment procedure. Below are the sequential side effects of breast cancer from diagnosis to the end of the treatment.
Effects of Breast Cancer Before Diagnosis
Lump formation is the most common finding in the case of breast cancer; these are often confused with cysts in breast. However, these breast tumours vary from the cysts in breast. These are usually found on the upper surface of the breast or below the nipples. With lump formation, many patients witness nipple inversion along with fluid oozing out of it. Red itchy rashes are also common, coupled with breast pain. However, not all patients feel breast pain, which is another threat denoting the presence of higher-grade cancer cell growth. If you see any of these changes in your body, immediately consult an oncologist to address the condition and treat it at the earliest.
Side-effects of Breast Cancer Surgery
After breast cancer surgery, side effects are in manifolds. Below are the side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer frequently seen among patients.
Losing a vital portion of your body is not child’s play and makes breast cancer surgery a tiring phenomenon. This fatigue stays for weeks or even months.
Numbness and Tingling Sensation
Breast cancer surgery involves the removal of breast tumours and numerous lymph nodes, which injures many of the surrounding nerves. This leads to numbing and tingling sensations around the armpits and chest area. This numbness stays with the patients for at least a couple of weeks. Many patients witness this sensation all their lives, especially in the case of lumpectomy (removal of only the breast tumour and some lymph nodes). However, the severity of this sensation diminishes with time.
When the lymph nodes are removed, the activity of our shoulders is impacted. As a result, we feel shoulder pain, stiffness, weakened muscular activity around the shoulders, and reduced movement.
Seroma has a balloon-like appearance, a common side effect seen after mastectomy (complete removal of the affected breast). This is a condition denoted by fluid accumulation in the areas of surgical scars. These developments are also observed around the armpit areas, especially among patients who went through an axillary lymph node dissection. This is a frequent occurrence but nothing to worry about. Proper breast care is the key to getting rid of seroma.
The fluid accumulated within the arm and breast tissues due to breast cancer surgery can cause swelling. Like seroma, this is also seen among patients and settles within a few weeks or months. Regular breast care and exercise can diminish this effect.
Side-effects of Chemotherapy
The number of chemotherapy cycles is subject to the severity of the condition, and the duration of side effects depends on this number of cycles a patient is undergoing. The side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer are numerous, which are elaborated below.
Increased Risk of Infection
Chemotherapy causes neutropenia, a loss of white blood cells. These cells are responsible for accelerating our immune system. When our immune system is compromised, our body is prone to several infections. Many patients suffer from a frequent rise in temperature, alongside soreness of the throat, frequent urination, and feeling shivery. So, staying in hygienic conditions and taking medicines to combat the symptoms are recommended.
Loss of hair
For many sufferers, hair loss as a side effect of chemotherapy becomes distressful. Even though not every chemotherapeutic drug causes hair loss, the ones used in the initial cycles for breast cancer can cause so. These drugs target the fast-growing cells in the body, which is why the hair cells get affected in addition to the cancer cells.
Prone to Anaemia
If you have a low red blood cell count and your haemoglobin is below the normal range, you are anaemic. When a patient goes through chemotherapy for breast cancer, the RBC count depletes abruptly, and as a consequence, the haemoglobin count decreases, and the patient suffers from anaemia.
People undergoing chemotherapy due to breast cancer are at a risk of blood clots. The drugs used for these therapies tend to cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT), thus increasing the chance of pulmonary embolism, a condition that affects our lungs.
Many breast cancer survivors have experienced nausea a few hours or days after the therapy. The seriousness of the condition gradually decreases, but people going through multiple cycles face the same situation repeatedly with every cycle.
Loss of Taste and Sour Mouth
Many patients cannot get the real flavours of the food they eat while under chemotherapy. With that, they have multiple mouth ulcers that irritate the mouth as a whole. Patients also suffer from bleeding gums that subside within a few days.
Besides breast care post-surgery, during chemotherapy, one needs to take care of their body aches. Many chemotherapy drugs like paclitaxel affect the nerves causing intolerable pain. Main meds are advised in such cases.
Side-effects of Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy involves exposure of the affected area to a high dose of x-ray or other radiation. For that reason, patients have multiple side effects of radiation therapy for breast cancer.
With repeated exposure to radiation, our skin starts to peel off. It becomes reddish and tender to the touch. Many patients have flaky skin with blisters appearing in the exposed areas. This is the commonest of all side effects of radiation for breast cancer.
Most patients undergo radiation therapy on a daily basis. This does not give a chance to our skin to heal from the harsh effects of radiation. Oedema or swelling of the breast happens with simultaneous radiation exposure. After the course completion, oedema decreases within a couple of weeks; if it does not, consult a lymphedema specialist.
Chest or breast pain is frequent among breast cancer patients going through radiation therapy. Some face sharp breast pain, while some have a mild ache. This condition takes duration from a few months to years to completely subside.
If the lymph nodes near the collarbone are affected, these areas will go through radiation therapy. The cells in these areas get irritation as the patients suffer from a sore throat for an extended period. Breast cancer specialists recommend having liquid pain relief and keeping the throat hydrated.
Just like breast cancer chemotherapy side effects and surgery side effects, radiotherapy also causes lymphedema. This phenomenon can occur soon after the treatment or later, maybe after a few months or even years.
Side-effects of Hormone Therapy
Hormone therapy is designed based on the nature of cancer cells involved in breast cancer. Below are some of the most observed side effects of hormone therapy for breast cancer regardless of the specifications.
Women undergoing hormone therapy have frequent episodes of anxiety and depression. The painful treatment overpowers the effects of this therapy. This condition should be addressed by the family to achieve a fast recovery.
Menstrual Health Changes
During hormonal therapy, most women stop menstruating. Some face dryness of the vagina, while many face vaginal bleeding, which differs from a menstrual cycle. It even causes infertility as the menstrual cycle stops.
This is a regular affair, especially among women undergoing hormonal therapy. This happens due to irregularities in hormone secretion during these therapy sessions.
Bone Health Degradation
Women under hormonal therapy are prone to osteoporosis, the thinning of their bones. This condition makes our bones vulnerable to fractures and breaks.
Hormonal therapy has side effects like vomiting, nausea, and constipation, which elevate issues related to the gastrointestinal tract. This becomes difficult for the digestive system to work normally, and as a result, patients face difficulty in excreting.
How to Manage the Effects of Breast Cancer?
The side effects of breast cancer treatment are many. Managing is the only way to deal with these complexities. Fatigue and other symptoms like lymphedema can be managed through regular exercises. Shoulder stiffness associated with surgery can be eliminated with regular sessions of physiotherapy. This, on the other hand, can help prevent lymphoedema and seroma as it helps move fluid in the affected areas.
Keep a check on what you eat. Surgery and therapies weaken our immune system, so there is a darn need for a high-protein diet to salvage the deficiency. Plus, visiting a psychologist can ease the stress and depression that patients face during this months-long journey of beating the battle of breast cancer. By following the advice of breast cancer hospital specialists, one can win over the difficulties of breast cancer and live a cancer-free life.
What is the most serious side effect of chemotherapy?
Nausea and sore mouth are the most difficult-to-deal side effects of chemotherapy in the case of breast cancer. On the other hand, hair loss impacts one’s mental health the most.
What is the most common side effect of chemotherapy?
Lack of energy and tiredness are the two most common side effects of chemotherapy.
How do you feel after chemotherapy for breast cancer?
The severity of symptoms increases with every chemotherapy cycle. One feels tired and nauseated. It is difficult to eat, and body aches are common during this period.
How successful is chemotherapy for breast cancer?
Chemotherapy for cancer cells that haven’t metastasised has a success rate of 99%. With the regional spread, the percentage may reduce to 86%. On the contrary, after metastasis, the chances can decrease to 28%.