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What To Expect After Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer

How Often Does Stage 1 Breast Cancer Come Back After Treatment

What to Expect from Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

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.

What Happens After Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer

Immediately after chemotherapy, you may feel sleepy or nauseated. Typically, the side effects of chemotherapy go away after you complete all prescribed cycles.

After all of your cycles of chemotherapy are completed, your healthcare provider may order imaging tests, such as CT scans or MRIs, to show whether the cancer is gone or the tumor has shrunk.

After Each Chemo Treatment

If necessary, your blood will be drawn after chemo. If your red blood cells or neutrophils are low, you may be offered shots to boost those counts. Chemotherapy can greatly affect your blood counts because blood cells divide and multiply quickly and are therefore targeted by the drugs.

Staying on top of your blood counts is essential for recovering from chemo with a healthy immune system and avoiding anemia and neutropenia .

Breast Cancer Doctor Discussion Guide

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  • Nerve damage
  • “Chemo brain”

Your specific chemotherapy drug or regimen may cause other side effects, as well. These effects will subside after you’ve finished treatment.

Before each treatment, your medical oncologist may want you to take medications to protect against side effects. Be sure to take these on time and as prescribed.

Between chemotherapy appointments, if you have trouble dealing with side effects, don’t hesitate to call your clinic and ask for help. For example, if you’re dehydrated after a treatment, your healthcare providers may suggest an IV infusion of fluids. Other medications may be given along with the saline to help with nausea and vomiting.

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What Are The Side Effects Of Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy side effects vary based on what kind of drugs you take and for how long. Common chemotherapy side effects include:

During chemotherapy treatment, many people still work, exercise and care for their families. For others, the treatment can be exhausting and time-consuming. It may be difficult to keep up with usual activities.

Speak with your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of chemotherapy. You may manage side effects with supportive medications, such as anti-nausea drugs. Chemotherapy side effects generally go away after you finish treatment.

Is Chemotherapy The Only Treatment For Breast Cancer

My breast cancer lumpectomy, mastectomy and reconstruction ...

No. Occasionally, chemotherapy is the only breast cancer treatment, but most often, healthcare providers use chemotherapy with other treatments, such as:

  • Lumpectomy: Removing the tumor and a small amount of surrounding breast tissue.
  • Mastectomy: Removing one or both breasts.
  • Hormone therapy: Taking medicines that lower estrogen or block estrogens effects on cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy: Taking medicines that target the changes in cancer cells to destroy them or slow their growth.
  • Radiation therapy: Using high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells.

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Coping With Other People’s 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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Adriamycin And Cytoxan: Rounds 2

The first round of AC chemo was the worst for me. Once the nurse changed my nausea medicine, I didnt get sick to my stomach any more. I did get sleepier DURING the chemo sessions though and just kind of laid there with the TV on.

Looking at my phone or a magazine made me feel nauseouskind of like reading in the car. I also didnt really want food while I was there. If I did eat, it had to be something bland like french fries or crackers, but that was about it.

After each session, I continued to mostly sleep for the first 5-7 days. I also never really remembered this first week after an infusion. I watched TV shows and had conversations with people that I would have absolutely no recollection of the next day. A lot of that may have been due to the nausea medicine I was taking and not the actual chemo though.

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What Happens After Iv Chemotherapy Ends

After your treatment session ends, the nurse or another health care team member will take out your IV. If you have a port, it will stay in until you finish all of your treatments. The nurse will check your blood pressure, pulse, breathing, and temperature again.

Your oncologist or nurse will talk with you about what to expect with side effects. They will give you medication, tell you how to manage common side effects, and offer information such as:

  • Avoid people with colds or other infections. Chemotherapy weakens your body’s immune system. Your immune system helps fight infections.

  • Drink lots of fluids for 48 hours after chemotherapy. This helps move the drugs through your body.

  • Whether there are activities to do or avoid doing on future treatment days.

Before you leave your first treatment, be sure to ask who you should call with any questions or concerns and how to contact them, including after hours or weekends.

How You Might Feel About Losing Your Hair

What to Expect with Breast Cancer

For many of us, the way we feel about ourselves is closely linked to the way we look, and so losing your hair can be devastating. You may feel anxious at the thought of losing your hair, or angry and unhappy that this has happened in addition to your cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Some people feel guilty about being upset when they lose their hair as they feel there are other, more important things to worry about. However, theres no right or wrong way to feel and whether you lose some or all of your hair, the experience can be very distressing.

Hair loss is such a visible side effect of treatment, and can change how you look and view yourself. Men and women often express negative feelings about losing the hair from their head. Men with breast cancer may also find the experience of losing the hair from their chest difficult.

Hair loss may also make you feel vulnerable and exposed. You may see it as a constant reminder of your treatment, labelling you as a cancer patient or feel that hair loss has prevented you keeping your diagnosis private. Some people find that they adjust quickly to hair loss. Others find that it takes longer, or is more difficult to accept and adapt to than they imagined.

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Reducing Breast Cancer Risk

Researchers continue to look for medicines that might help lower breast cancer risk, especially women who are at high risk.

  • Estrogen blocking drugs are typically used to help treat breast cancer, but some might also help prevent it. Tamoxifen and raloxifene have been used for many years to prevent breast cancer. More recent studies with another class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors have shown that these drugs are also very effective in preventing breast cancer
  • Other clinical trials are looking at non-hormonal drugs for breast cancer reduction. Drugs of interest include drugs for diabetes like metformin, drugs used to treat blood or bone marrow disorders, like ruxolitinib, and bexarotene, a drug that treats a specific type of T-cell lymphoma.

This type of research takes many years. It might be some time before meaningful results on any of these compounds are available.

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 .

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Thinking About Taking Part In A Clinical Trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases, they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials, or see Clinical Trials to learn more.

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Joint Committee on Cancer. Breast. In: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 8th ed. New York, NY: Springer 2017:589.

Cristofanilli M, Pierga JY, Reuben J, Rademaker A, Davis AA, Peeters DJ et al. The clinical use of circulating tumor cells enumeration for staging of metastatic breast cancer : International expert consensus paper. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2019 Feb 134:39-45.

Cuzick, J et al. Anastrozole for prevention of breast cancer in high-risk postmenopausal women : an international, double-blind, randomised placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet. 2014 383 :1041 – 1048.

Last Revised: September 18, 2019

How Do You Get Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

You get chemotherapy as a pill or in a vein daily, weekly, or every 2-4 weeks. You may get one drug or a combination of them. Your treatment plan is designed for your particular situation.

If your veins are hard to find, you may get a catheter in a large vein. These devices are inserted by a surgeon or radiologist and have an opening to the skin or a port under the skin, allowing chemotherapy medications to be given. They can also be used to give fluids or take blood samples. Once chemotherapy is finished, your catheter will be removed.

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What To Expect On Your First Day Of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy. It’s not a word people want to hear and certainly not something they want to go through. But, for those of us with cancer, we often don’t have a choice. I remember how terrified I was of getting my first chemotherapy treatment. Would I be sick? Would I have a reaction to the medication? Would I be in a room by myself or with other chemo patients?I really didn’t know what to expect the first day. However, almost 4 years later, I feel like a pro.

What If I Have Side Effects

You will see your doctor regularly while you are having treatment. Before each dose of chemotherapy you will have a blood test and a consultation with your medical oncologist to review your treatment. You will be able to discuss any side effects you have experienced and to ask questions. If necessary, the treatment can be adjusted for the next cycle.

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Chemotherapy Via Iv Line

During this procedure, which takes only 1 to 2 minutes, a medical professional inserts a needle into a vein in your hand or wrist.

The needle contains a thin plastic tube called a catheter, which allows the drugs to flow directly into your bloodstream. Once the catheter is in place, the needle is removed.

You might feel a mild prickling sensation at the site where the IV is inserted. This should go away shortly after the professional removes the needle and secures the catheter in place.

Most people experience little to no discomfort when having an IV inserted.

The professional will remove the catheter when the treatment is over. In some cases, its left in for up to 3 days.

What Are The Side Effects

The Role of Exercise During and After Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is sometimes referred to as a systemic treatment, because it affects all parts of your body. Unfortunately, it can attack fast-growing healthy cells, such as hair follicles, as well as cancer cells. This causes unwanted side effects such as fatigue, nausea and hair loss. Your medical oncologist or oncology nurse can give you information on ways to manage these side effects.

If side effects are affecting your daily life, its important to discuss them with a member of your medical team. In some instances, your oncologist may be able to change your chemotherapy drug to one that has fewer side effects.

Chemotherapy drugs all work differently and have different side effects. Not all women will suffer side effects from chemotherapy. If you dont experience side effects, it does not mean that the drugs aren’t working.

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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.

Pain

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

  • Numbness
  • 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.

What About My Physical And Emotional Wellness

Eating a healthy diet including a variety of foods will ensure you have what your body needs to cope with treatment and recovery. Regular physical activity can improve your recovery and reduce side effects such as fatigue.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for professional and emotional support.
  • Consider joining a cancer support group.
  • Learn to ignore unwanted advice and “horror stories”.
  • Live day-to-day and remember that every day is likely to be different.

Complementary therapies can work alongside medical treatments and some have been shown to improve quality of life or reduce pain. There is no evidence that these therapies can cure or prevent cancer. Some have not been tested for side effects, may work against other medical treatments and may be expensive. Talk with your doctor about using complementary therapies. If you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.

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If The Cancer Comes Back

If cancer does return, your treatment options will depend on where it comes back, what treatments you’ve had before, and your current health and preferences. For more information on how recurrent cancer is treated, see Treatment of Recurrent Breast Cancer.

Its important to know that women who have had breast cancer can also still get other types of cancer. In fact, women who have had breast cancer are at higher risk for certain other cancers. Because of this, its important to follow the American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of cancer, such as those for colorectal cancer and cervical cancer. To learn more about the risks of second cancers and what you can do about them, see Second Cancers After Breast Cancer.

Keeping Personal Health Records

What to expect on your first day of chemotherapy

You and your doctor should work together to develop a personalized follow-up care plan. Be sure to discuss any concerns you have about your future physical or emotional health. ASCO offers forms to help keep track of the cancer treatment you received and develop a survivorship care plan when treatment is completed. At the conclusion of active treatment, ask your doctor to provide you with a treatment summary and a survivorship care plan.

This is also a good time to talk with your doctor about who will lead your follow-up care. Some survivors continue to see their oncologist, while others transition back to the care of their family doctor, another health care professional, or a specialized survivorship clinic. This decision depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, side effects, health insurance rules, and your personal preferences.If a doctor who was not directly involved in your cancer care will lead your follow-up care, be sure to share your cancer treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms with them and with all future health care providers. Details about your cancer treatment are very valuable to the health care professionals who will care for you throughout your lifetime.

The next section in this guide is Survivorship. It describes how to cope with challenges in everyday life after a cancer diagnosis. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.

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