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Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Side Effects

For Metastatic Breast Cancer

What Are the Side Effects of Chemotherapy?

Chemo can be used as the main treatment for women whose cancer has spread outside the breast and underarm area to distant organs like the liver or lungs. Chemo can be given either when breast cancer is diagnosed or after initial treatments. The length of treatment depends on how well the chemo is working and how well you tolerate it.

Practical And Personal Issues

Breast cancer affects more than just your breasts. It can impact your quality of life: your day-to-day routines and the person you know yourself to be, emotionally and physically.

  • Surgeries such as mastectomy or hair loss from chemotherapy are just some examples of how treatment can change the way you feel about your physical self your body image.
  • A breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can also have emotional side effects.
  • If you are young and premenopausal , breast cancer treatments can affect your fertility.
  • Hair loss may affects the way you view your body and femininity.

Still, there are many ways to manage body image and emotional issues that can come up, including one-on-one counseling and support groups. You can learn more by visiting our community page.

Here are the most common breast cancer treatments that can cause side effects:

Where You Have Chemotherapy

You usually have treatment into your bloodstream at the cancer day clinic. You might sit in a chair for a few hours so its a good idea to take things in to do. For example, newspapers, books or electronic devices can all help to pass the time. You can usually bring a friend or family member with you.

You have some types of chemotherapy over several days. You might be able to have some drugs through a small portable pump that you take home.

For some types of chemotherapy you have to stay in a hospital ward. This could be overnight or for a couple of days.

Clare Disney : Hello, my name is Clare and this is a cancer day unit.

So when you arrive and youve reported into with the receptionist, one of the nurses will call you through when your treatment is ready, sit you down and go through all the treatment with you.

Morning, Iris. My name is Clare. I am the nurse who is going to be looking after you today. Were going to start by putting a cannula in the back of your hand and giving you some anti sickness medication. And then I am going to come back to you and talk through the chemotherapy with you and the possible side effects you may experience throughout your treatment. Is that okay?

Each chemotherapy is made up for each individual patient, depending on the type of cancer they have and where it is and depending their height, weight and blood results.

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Changes In The Shape Size And Feel Of The Breast

In time radiotherapy can cause the breast tissue to change shape or shrink in size a little. This can happen to your natural breast tissue or a reconstructed breast.

After radiotherapy, the breast might feel hard and less stretchy. This is due to a side effect called radiation fibrosis. This side effect is usually mild.

Sometimes the breast can shrink a little over time. This is because radiotherapy can make the breast tissue contract so that the breast gradually gets smaller.

An implant in a reconstructed breast can become hard and may need replacing.

Let your surgeon know of any changes, they may be able to do some minor surgical adjustments to improve the look.

Will I Need Chemotherapy After A Total Mastectomy

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When chemotherapy is provided after surgery, it is called adjuvant chemotherapy. Whether or not chemotherapy is recommended following a total mastectomy will depend on many different factors, including the patients overall health, age and medical history as well as the type, stage and nature of the breast cancer.

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Coping With Other Peoples Reactions To Hair Loss

You may feel that losing your hair means that you will need to tell people about your diagnosis when you would prefer not to, however, its up to you who you tell. Some people tell just their family and close friends, while others are happy to let everyone know.

People will respond to you losing your hair in different ways, and you may find some reactions difficult to understand.

A change in appearance may make you feel less confident about socialising with friends and family. However, withdrawing from your social life may make you feel more isolated or that your diagnosis is preventing you from doing the things you enjoy. Many people find continuing to meet up with others is a useful distraction and helps to keep some normality.

You may feel anxious about other peoples reactions at first, but these feelings should gradually improve over time. It might help to talk to others who have experienced hair loss.

If you have children, whatever their age, you may wonder what to tell them about your breast cancer. Your children may find it upsetting to see you without any hair and it might help if you prepare them for the fact that this may happen. Studies have shown that children are less anxious if they know whats happening, and that it can be less frightening for them to know what is going on even if they dont fully understand. Read our tips about talking to children about breast cancer.

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What Side Effects Can I Expect From Chemotherapy

That said, some common side effects associated with chemotherapy include:

  • Blood problems, like anemia, easy bruising and bleeding, and infections
  • Digestion problems, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, low appetite, bladder changes, and mouth sores
  • Hormonal problems, like mood changes, libido changes, and fertility problems
  • Mental problems, like chemo brain

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How Is Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Administered

Chemotherapy is commonly prescribed along with other treatment methods such as hormonal and targeted therapies. It can also be used to shrink a tumor before surgery for easier and safer removal, referred to as neoadjuvant chemotherapy.If you receive chemotherapy, your doctor will administer it in short courses with several weeks in between to allow your normal cells to recover. This treatment period can be a challenging time emotionally and physically. It is important for you to develop a support team of family or friends that can help comfort and encourage you in this time.

How Breast Cancer Is Treated

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In cancer care, doctors specializing in different areas of cancer treatmentsuch as surgery, radiation oncology, and medical oncologywork together with radiologists and pathologists to create a patients overall treatment plan that combines different types of treatments. This is called a multidisciplinary team. Cancer care teams include a variety of other health care professionals, such as physician assistants, nurse practitioners, oncology nurses, social workers, pharmacists, counselors, nutritionists, and others. For people older than 65, a geriatric oncologist or geriatrician may also be involved in their care. Ask the members of your treatment team who is the primary contact for questions about scheduling and treatment, who is in charge during different parts of treatment, how they communicate across teams, and whether there is 1 contact who can help with communication across specialties, such as a nurse navigator. This can change over time as your health care needs change.

A treatment plan is a summary of your cancer and the planned cancer treatment. It is meant to give basic information about your medical history to any doctors who will care for you during your lifetime. Before treatment begins, ask your doctor for a copy of your treatment plan. You can also provide your doctor with a copy of the ASCO Treatment Plan form to fill out.

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Common Chemotherapy Drugs For Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy drugs used to treat early breast cancer include:

These drugs are often used with others like carboplatin, cyclophosphamide , and fluorouracil .

These drugs are often used with others like carboplatin , cyclophosphamide , and fluorouracil .

How Often Does Stage 1 Breast Cancer Come Back After Treatment

If stage 1 cancer is treated comprehensively, it rarely comes back. A new, unrelated breast cancer is more likely to emerge after stage 1 breast cancer is treated than a recurrence. Your healthcare provider will recommend a surveillance schedule for you so that new breast cancer or a recurrence can be identified and treated as quickly as possible.

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Increased Risk Of Leukemia

Very rarely, certain chemo drugs, such as doxorubicin , can cause diseases of the bone marrow, such as myelodysplastic syndromes or even acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of white blood cells. If this happens, it is usually within 10 years after treatment. For most women, the benefits of chemo in helping prevent breast cancer from coming back or in extending life are far likely to exceed the risk of this rare but serious complication.

Nerve Damage Around The Treatment Area

The 10 most common chemotherapy side effects

Scaring from radiotherapy may cause nerve damage in the arm on the treated side. This can develop many years after your treatment. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, pain, and weakness. In some people, it may cause some loss of movement in the arm and shoulder.

Speak to your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.

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How Long Does Chemotherapy Take For Breast Cancer

Typically, you receive chemotherapy in cycles. You may receive chemo every week or every two, three or even four weeks. Cycles are usually two to three treatments long. Each cycle includes a rest period to allow your body to recover. For example, you may have the same treatment every Monday for three weeks. Then you have an extra week to recover before repeating the cycle. Many people have multiple treatment cycles in a row. Treatment may last three to six months.

Effects On Your Concentration

Some people find treatment affects their ability to concentrate and makes them more forgetful.

This is sometimes called chemo brain or chemo fog, but your treatment team may call it cognitive impairment. It usually improves over time after treatment has finished, but for some people it can continue for longer.

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Tips For Easing Side Effects Caused By Hormone Therapy For Breast Cancer:

The side effects caused by hormone therapies can often be addressed with some of the following tips:

  • Hot flashes may be managed by wearing loose-fitting clothing, reducing your stress, or avoiding spicy foods, caffeine, or alcohol. In some instances, your doctor may prescribe other medications to relieve hot flashes.
  • Vaginal lubricants may help reduce dryness.
  • To combat fatigue, its often recommended to maintain a regular sleep schedule, rest throughout the day, and start an exercise routine.
  • If you feel nauseous, eating bland foods may help. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-nausea medications.

Will The Nhs Fund An Unlicensed Medicine

Long Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy During Breast Cancer Treatment

It’s possible for your doctor to prescribe a medicine outside the uses it’s licensed for if they’re willing to take personal responsibility for this ‘off-licence’ use of treatment.

Your local integrated care board may need to be involved, as it would have to decide whether to support your doctor’s decision and pay for the medicine from NHS budgets.

Page last reviewed: 28 October 2019 Next review due: 28 October 2022

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Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Side

Breast cancer is a type of cancer where the cells in the breast grow unnaturally in one or both breasts and can spread all over the area. It depends on which cell of the breast that has turned into cancer. A breast is made up of 3 different parts i.e lobules, duct, and connective tissue. To treat breast cancer one of the frequently used treatment methods is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is again administered as oral, IV, IM, or subcutaneous.

Chemotherapy is a traditional and most common approach to treat cancer via curative or palliative intent.

Chemotherapy in breast cancer uses drugs to target and destroy the cancerous cells found in the breast. The drugs of chemotherapy are directly injected into veins through a needle or could also be taken orally.

Chemotherapy could be given with other treatments such as hormonal, radiation, or surgical therapy. Chemotherapy itself increases the change in condition and increases cure while decreasing the risk of recurrence, fighting the symptoms, or helping people with living a better quality of life.

In case of rapid spread or recurrence, it can also help in the control of breast cancer which helps to live longer or can also help ease with symptoms.

Chemotherapy in breast cancer carries side effects that ranges from mild and moderate to severe. Consultation with the oncophysician helps in the process and to take better treatment decisions during the process.

Chemotherapy for breast cancer may be given in the conditions like:

What To Expect After Last Chemo Treatment

Physical Changes and Strategies to Cope

First and foremost, you may be noticing some physical changes in your life after chemo. Chemotherapy works by destroying cancer cells that grow and divide quickly unfortunately, this sometimes results in fast-growing, healthy cells also being affected.

Its important to note that not everyone will experience the same sort of side-effects when it comes to life after chemo. Every situation is unique, and each survivors situation is different.

Fortunately, no matter what you may be dealing with in your post-treatment life, most of your bodily issues are able to be kept under control. Luckily, there are numerous precautions and strategies you can employ to minimize the adverse effects of life after chemo.


Depending on where your cancer was located, you may be dealing with pain. This pain can either be localized to the area where cancer was being treated, or it may be an issue that has impacted your entire body. Whatever the case may be, there are ways to cope with some of the painful side-effects that come along with what happens after chemo is finished, which will impact how long until you feel better.

Peripheral Neuropathy

  • Inability to keep your balance
  • Sensitivity to cold or heat

Skin Changes

Some of the skin changes survivors frequently mention include:

Dry Skin Your skin may be feeling itchy, accompanied by roughness and tightness. This is one of the more common skin conditions survivors may deal with.

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Will My Menstrual Flow Be Different After Chemotherapy

Menstrual cycles vary from woman to woman. Some women may experience less frequent cycles than they had prior to chemotherapy. They may skip a period or increase the number of days between periods. Other women may have more frequent periods.

Some women may not experience a change in the length of their menstrual cycles but the flow pattern may be different than it was before treatment . Mixed patterns are also common: some women may have shorter menstrual cycles with heavier bleeding, or infrequent cycles with many days of a very high flow.

Even though periods tend to be irregular around the time of menopause, it is important to be aware of bleeding that is not normal for you. It is very important to call your physician if you ever have very heavy bleeding that is associated with weakness or dizziness.

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Side Effects From Breast Cancer Treatment

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Breast cancer side effects are symptoms or ailments that develop due to the treatments used or as a result of the disease itself.

Long-term side effects begin during treatment and continue after all treatment is stopped.

Late side effects are symptoms that may appear weeks, months or years after treatment ends.

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What Tests Are Used To Determine If A Patient Can Benefit From Chemo

Genomic profiling tests can help determine if a cancer is likely to return and whether or not some patients with small, early cancers will or will not benefit from chemotherapy.

There are many of these tests, and the two most common ones are Oncotype DX and MammaPrint, Dr. Lustberg says, adding that both are FDA-approved. The tests analyze a sample of a cancer tumortaken from a biopsy or a surgical specimenlooking for the activity of certain genes that can affect the likelihood that a patients cancer will grow or spread.

The following patients may be eligible for the Oncotype DX test:

  • Youve recently been diagnosed with Stage I, Stage II, or Stage IIIa invasive breast cancer
  • The cancer is estrogen-receptor-positive

Choosing A Chemo Combination

Your doctor will probably talk to you about combining different chemo drugs. They may refer to them by abbreviations for their names. Some of the most common include:

  • AC: Adriamycin and Cytoxan
  • CMF: Cytoxan, methotrexate, and fluorouracil
  • FAC: Fluorouracil, Adriamycin, and Cytoxan
  • CAF: Cytoxan, Adriamycin, and fluorouracil

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