Obviously, there are many more than five side effects from breast cancer treatment and many are well known, even to people not affected by the disease. Hair loss and nausea are probably the most common indications that someone is going through chemotherapy. Radiation can cause pain, fatigue, and changes to your skin.
Some side effects are less known. Here are five as detailed by the National Institutes of Health.
1. Premature Menopause
About 13 percent of young women going through chemotherapy experience premature menopause. Of course, this is a major life-changing event for women who have not yet had children but had hoped to become mothers. In women under age 40 the effect may be temporary. Over 40, it is usually permanent. Even if periods return, an earlier onset of menopause is likely.
But even if children were not a factor, early menopause can contribute to the risk of cardiac disease and a weakening of bones. Aching muscles and joints are another possible side effect.
Before undergoing treatment for breast cancer, discuss the possibility of premature menopause with your doctor.
2. Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN)
Neuropathy is caused by damage to nerves. Peripheral Neuropathy refers to nerve damage not related to the brain or spinal cord. CIPN may occur during treatment or years later. Symptoms include numbness, weakness, tingling
sensations, foot cramps, pain, and more. CIPN can affect your ability to walk and perform simple tasks like buttoning a shirt.
If you are experiencing severe CIPN, your doctor may alter your course of chemotherapy or prescribe medications to mitigate some of the effects.
3. Cognitive Dysfunction (Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog)
Chemo Brain is a commonly reported consequence of breast cancer treatment. It may be marked by fuzzy thinking, impaired memory, confusion, and trouble concentrating.
This is troubling for anyone but may be especially worrisome for older people who are already concerned about age-related memory loss. The effects of Chemo Brain may last from a few months to several years.
Combat the impact of Chemo Brain by keeping written schedules, lists, and reminders, either on paper or on your smart phone. Use a planner, appointment book, or online calendar to keep yourself organized. Exercise your brain with puzzles or classes. Be sure to get enough sleep and establish a daily routine.
Most importantly, tell others what you are going through. Seek help from family, friends, and Albie Aware.
It is natural to experience depression when you are facing a life-threatening disease, after all, the quality of one’s life has already been impacted by all that a breast cancer diagnosis entails. When depression becomes too severe, it may require intervention.
Talk to your doctor, she/he may try changing some medications or prescribe a new one. Talk to a therapist if medications don’t resolve the problem. Techniques such as yoga or meditation may also help lessen your depression.
Pain goes with the territory, but it should not completely wreck your daily life. Hopefully, pain will lessen to a tolerable level as your treatment progresses. If not, your healthcare team needs to know, so they can develop a strategy to help mitigate the pain. Pain during treatment is treatable.
You are not alone
For these and the many other side effects you may encounter during breast cancer treatment, help is available. Of course, the place to start is your doctor and your healthcare team. Tell you nurse about any side effects you experience. Need more information or help navigating the process? Contact Albie Aware!