If Youre Getting Radiation Therapy To The Breast
If you have radiation to the breast, it can affect your heart or lungs as well causing other side effects.
Short-term side effects
Radiation to the breast can cause:
- Skin irritation, dryness, and color changes
- Breast soreness
- Breast swelling from fluid build-up
To avoid irritating the skin around the breast, women should try to go without wearing a bra whenever they can. If this isnt possible, wear a soft cotton bra without underwires.
If your shoulders feel stiff, ask your cancer care team about exercises to keep your shoulder moving freely.
Breast soreness, color changes, and fluid build-up will most likely go away a month or 2 after you finish radiation therapy. If fluid build-up continues to be a problem, ask your cancer care team what steps you can take. See Lymphedema for more information.
Long-term changes to the breast
Radiation therapy may cause long-term changes in the breast. Your skin may be slightly darker, and pores may be larger and more noticeable. The skin may be more or less sensitive and feel thicker and firmer than it was before treatment. Sometimes the size of your breast changes it may become larger because of fluid build-up or smaller because of scar tissue. These side effects may last long after treatment.
After about a year, you shouldnt have any new changes. If you do see changes in breast size, shape, appearance, or texture after this time, tell your cancer care team about them right away.
Less common side effects in nearby areas
Insomnia And Difficulty Sleeping
Many cancer patients report that they occasionally have trouble sleeping or that they can’t sleep at all . Lack of sleep can lead to other issues such as fatigue, loss of concentration, headaches, and irritability.
To minimize the impact of insomnia, focus on these three possible solutions: managing other side effects of cancer or treatment, creating a good sleep routine, and talking to your healthcare team.
Manage other side effects.
Nausea Nausea may make it difficult for you to go to sleep, and vomiting may wake you up at night.
- Sleeping with your head slightly elevated may help you get more comfortable.
- If your doctor has prescribed medication for nausea, make sure you take it as recommended, especially before bedtime.
Pain Any type of pain can keep you up at night and make it difficult to be comfortable.
- Make sure you take pain medication as recommended, especially before bedtime.
Weight Gain If you gained weight as a result of cancer treatment, you may have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. The extra weight can make it difficult to get comfortable. It can also make sleeping more difficult because your body has to work a little harder to function normally, such as regulating breathing.
- Try using a body pillow to give you more sleeping positions.
- Cool temperatures can help promote sleep. Make sure your bedroom thermostat is set low and that your pillowcase feels cool to your skin.
- If night sweats are a problem, buy wicking sleepwear to keep you dry at night.
Communicating With Your Healthcare Provider About Fatigue
Many people underestimate fatigue and fail to discuss it with their practitioner. There can be underlying medical reasons for fatigue, such as anemia, that may need to be addressed. Unfortunately, there is no medication, prescription or OTC, that treats fatigue, but your healthcare provider may be able to determine what is contributing to fatigue and offer solutions specific to your situation.
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Where Do These Numbers Come From
The American Cancer Society relies on information from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute , to provide survival statistics for different types of cancer.
The SEER database tracks 5-year relative survival rates for breast cancer in the United States, based on how far the cancer has spread. The SEER database, however, does not group cancers by AJCC TNM stages . Instead, it groups cancers into localized, regional, and distant stages:
- Localized: There is no sign that the cancer has spread outside of the breast.
- Regional: The cancer has spread outside the breast to nearby structures or lymph nodes.
- Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body such as the lungs, liver or bones.
What Is A Normal Breast
No breast is typical. What is normal for you may not be normal for another woman. Most women say their breasts feel lumpy or uneven. The way your breasts look and feel can be affected by getting your period, having children, losing or gaining weight, and taking certain medications. Breasts also tend to change as you age. For more information, see the National Cancer Institutes Breast Changes and Conditions.external icon
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Feeling Vague: ‘chemo Brain’
While being treated with chemotherapy, some women feel vague as if theyre in a fog or find they have memory or concentration problems. This is often referred to as chemo brain.
It is not clear exactly what causes these memory and concentration problems in people with cancer, so calling them chemo brain may not be accurate. Mild cognitive impairment is a more accurate description used by doctors. Another term is cognitive dysfunction.
People use the word cognitive or cognition in different ways. Most people who have cognitive changes are able to do everyday things. But they may notice they arent able to do some things quite as well as before they had cancer. Some of the symptoms people describe include:
- memory loss and forgetting things you normally remember
- difficulty finding the right word for something
- difficulty following the flow of a conversation
- trouble focusing on or doing more than one thing at a time
- difficulty organising things or planning ahead.
Ongoing research is being conducted to better understand how best to manage the symptoms of cognitive impairment related to chemotherapy. There are some strategies that have been suggested that might be helpful, including:
What About Other Treatments That I Hear About
When you have cancer you might hear about other ways to treat the cancer or treat your symptoms. These may not always be standard medical treatments. These treatments may be vitamins, herbs, special diets, and other things. You may wonder about these treatments.
Some of these are known to help, but many have not been tested. Some have been shown not to help. A few have even been found to be harmful. Talk to your doctor about anything youre thinking about using, whether its a vitamin, a diet, or anything else.
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Side Effects Of Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer
Like any treatment, chemotherapy can cause side effects. Everyone reacts differently to drugs and some people have more side effects than others. These side effects can usually be managed and those described here will not affect everyone.
Your treatment team will give you information about the drugs you are having, details of any side effects they may cause and how these can be controlled or managed.
Before starting chemotherapy you should be given a 24-hour contact number or told who to contact if you feel unwell at any time during your treatment, including at night or at the weekends.
Between each cycle of chemotherapy, youll have an assessment to see how youre feeling and whether youve had any side effects.
If you are concerned about any side effects, regardless of whether they are listed here, talk to your treatment team as soon as possible.
Unusual Breast Cancer Symptoms
Some unusual breast cancer symptoms are given below.
When you raise your arms, an indentation occurs, which is known as puckering. When you put your arms down, it retracts.
Make an appointment with a doctor if a clear discharge or blood comes out of the nipple on its own. This can be an indication of breast cancer, despite being an unusual symptom.
Swelling, Redness, or Darkening of the Breast
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare breast cancer symptom that causes the breast to swell and become inflamed. Many people mistake it for a skin infection, which leads to it going untreated.
Itchy, Scaly, or Rash on the Nipple
Eczema, for example, can create an itchy nipple. It could, however, be another clue of unusual breast cancer symptoms.
Breast Pain After Menopause
Postmenopausal breast discomfort might be one of the first indicators of breast cancer. Only 2-7 percent of women, on the other hand, have this problem. If youre experiencing breast pain, make an appointment with your doctor to learn more.
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Why You’re So Tired After Radiation Therapy
When you are prescribed radiation therapy to treat cancer, your healthcare provider will provide you with a list of possible side effects of treatment. Things like nausea, diarrhea, and hair loss usually catch a person’s attention first because they seem to be the worst. While these are side effects that can be difficult to tolerate, it is actually fatigue that affects people the most. Lack of energy and excessive tiredness seem to plague all cancer patients, but those going through radiation therapy do experience it more frequently and often chronically. Learning how to manage and cope with fatigue is essential for your quality of life during radiation therapy treatment.
Symptoms If Cancer Has Spread To The Bones
You may have any of these symptoms if your cancer has spread to the bones:
- an ache or pain in the affected bone
- breaks in the bones because they are weaker
- breathlessness, looking pale, bruising and bleeding due to low levels of blood cells – blood cells are made in the bone marrow and can be crowded out by the cancer cells
Sometimes when bones are damaged by advanced cancer, the bones release calcium into the blood. This is called hypercalcaemia and can cause various symptoms such as:
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Fatigue Prior To Treatment
Several studies have now shown that women with breast cancer complain of fatigue even before the start of treatment., Ancoli-Israel et al. found that women diagnosed with breast cancer had increased fatigue, disturbed sleep, and increased daily dysfunction before the start of chemotherapy, and that those patients with fatigue, poor sleep, and depression pre-chemotherapy experienced more fatigue and poor quality of life during chemotherapy than women with fewer pre-treatment symptoms. These data suggest that fatigue is not just a result of radiation or chemotherapy, but rather is multifactorial.
Icy Cold Feeling In Breast: Breastfeeding
In normal cases, women may have a cold or tingling feeling in the breast, especially during a period, if she breastfeeds or is taking hormone medicine. It can be a reason for hormonal change that the woman is going through or any of the following diseases.
Mastitis is a breast infection that can affect breastfeeding mothers in the first six to eight weeks following delivery. The condition is caused by either stagnant milk obstructing a duct or germs entering the breast through a nipple fissure. During feedings and even while not breastfeeding, it might cause tingling or burning sensations. She may also have fever, warm, red, or swollen breast, fatigue.
Thrush is a candida-caused fungal illness that can cause intense, burning pain in one or both breasts of a nursing mother. Thrush usually develops after taking antibiotics or when candida enters the breast through cracks in the nipples or the epidermis.
When a nursing mothers infant latches on and begins to suck the nipple, the breast tingles and may have icy cold feelings, prompting milk to flow or let down.
This is a condition in which the nipples blood vessels constrict as a result of nursing. During and between feedings, it might cause a scorching, needle-like sensation. It mainly happens in cold weather, with a baby which cannot lich properly.
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Stomach Upset Loss Of Appetite And Weight Loss
It can be more difficult to eat a healthy diet as these symptoms occur, setting up a vicious cycle. As women avoid certain foods because of stomach upset, the digestive system may lack the fiber and nutrients it needs to function optimally.
Over time, women may lose their appetite and have difficulty taking in the calories they need. Not eating regularly may cause significant weight loss and nutritional imbalances.
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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What Will Happen After Treatment
Youll be glad when treatment is over. For years after treatment ends, you will see your cancer doctor. Be sure to go to all of these follow-up visits. You will have exams, blood tests, and maybe other tests to see if the cancer has come back.
At first, your visits may be every few months. Then, the longer youre cancer-free, the less often the visits are needed.
If you still have a breast , youll need to get a mammogram every year. Depending on your treatment, you might need other tests as well, such as yearly pelvic exams or bone density tests.
Having cancer and dealing with treatment can be hard, but it can also be a time to look at your life in new ways. You might be thinking about how to improve your health. Call us at 1-800-227-2345 or talk to your cancer care team to find out what you can do to feel better.
You cant change the fact that you have cancer. What you can change is how you live the rest of your life making healthy choices and feeling as well as you can.
Cancer Treatments Linked To Dizziness
Some types of chemotherapy may cause dizziness. Drug-related dizziness may go away after you have taken the drug for a few days or weeks. Tell your health care team about the dizziness and any other symptoms you have during chemotherapy. Today, many medications are available to treat the side effects from chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy to the brain, spine, or other parts of the body related to the nervous system can also cause dizziness.
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Summary And Future Directions
While research into the etiology, course, and treatment of cancer-related fatigue is relatively new, much progress has been made in recent years however, considerable opportunities remain. While some well-powered studies have examined risk factors for fatigue in breast cancer patients and survivors, most studies examining underlying mechanisms have involved small to very small sample sizes. While a few studies employing repeated-assessments have been conducted, most have been cross-sectional in design. Thus, more longitudinal studies that involve assessment of cancer patients pre-/post-completion of initial treatment and into survivorship are needed. While multiple factors have been observed to be linked with cancer-related fatigue, it has yet to be determined which factors predispose, precipitate or exacerbate/maintain the patients experience of fatigue. For example, longitudinal studies examining and comparing the effects of chemotherapy- and radiation-induced inflammation on functioning during survivorship are warranted. Also, additional studies employing statistical analytic techniques that can evaluate hypotheses about causal pathways are needed. These will require multiple assessments of established or promising biomarkers of fatigue. Such studies should also assess fatigue using multidimensional scales normed on and/or tailored to breast cancer patients.
Stage Of Breast Cancer
When your breast cancer is diagnosed, the doctors will give it a stage. The stage describes the size of the cancer and how far it has spread.
Ductal carcinoma in situ is sometimes described as Stage 0. Other stages of breast cancer describe invasive breast cancer .
- Stage 1 the tumour measures less than 2cm and the lymph nodes in the armpit aren’t affected. There are no signs that the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body.
- Stage 2 the tumour measures 2-5cm or the lymph nodes in the armpit are affected, or both. There are no signs that the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body.
- Stage 3 the tumour measures 2-5cm and may be attached to structures in the breast, such as skin or surrounding tissues. The lymph nodes in the armpit are affected. However, there are no signs that the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body.
- Stage 4 the tumour is of any size and the cancer has spread to other parts of the body .
This is a simplified guide. Each stage is divided into further categories: A, B and C. If you’re not sure what stage you have, ask your doctor.
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Reducing Your Risk Of Infection And Bleeding
You can help reduce the risk of infection and bleeding by:
- Regularly washing and drying your hands thoroughly
- Cleaning any cuts and grazes and cover with a dressing or plaster
- Avoiding people who are unwell or may be infectious
- Eating as healthily as possible, and following any advice about food and drink given to you by your hospital
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Storing and cooking food correctly
When To See Your Doctor
Its important to talk to your physician if you have breast pain from any cause. Even if its not due to cancer, many women find that breast pain decreases their quality of life. In one study,15% of the women experienced breast pain at some time in their life that interfered with work and family activities. So, make sure to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any suspicious discomfort.
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