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Side Effects


Lt Col Flemings
Unfortunately, the treatment of breast cancer often leads to a variety of side effects, depending upon the type and extent of treatment received. One key reason that side effects occur is that breast cancer treatments, like most cancer treatments, are likely to damage healthy cells and tissues in addition to destroying the cancer cells. Major Spencer, what can you tell us about the side effects of breast cancer treatment?

Maj Spencer
Well, Dr. Flemings, the side effects of breast cancer treatment may not be the same for each woman, or even for women having the same treatments. In addition, a woman's side effects may change from one treatment session to the next. A healthcare provider can explain the possible side effects of each breast cancer treatment and how to manage them.

In general, the side effects of surgical treatments can include pain and tenderness immediately after the surgery. Long-term side effects differ, based on the extent of the surgery, and the woman’s decisions regarding possible reconstruction.

The side effects of radiation can include fatigue and skin irritation. These side effects are usually temporary, and improve quickly after radiation treatment is completed.

As a result of chemotherapy, some patients may lose their hair and may have other side effects, such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth sores. These side effects are also temporary, and tend to subside fairly quickly after completion of the chemotherapy.

For some women, emotional side effects often play a large role in the recovery from breast cancer treatment. The ongoing support of family and friends, and the existence of breast cancer support groups, can make a huge difference in managing emotional side effects. Be sure to ask your provider for a referral to a support group in your area.