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Complications of Breast Cancer Treatment

by Janice Messali
  • Overview

    Complications of breast cancer treatment include chemotherapy side effects.
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    Breast cancer treatments vary depending on the specific type and stage of the cancer, as well as the presence of other illnesses and the patient's age. Each treatment has potential complications.
  • Surgery

    Lumpectomies and mastectomies are common breast cancer treatments. Often a lymph node biopsy is also required to see if cancer has spread beyond breast tissue. Complications from any surgery are bleeding, infection and anesthesia difficulties. When lymph nodes are removed, there is also a potential for swelling of the arm because lymph drainage is reduced.
 
  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy is used to lessen the chance of breast cancer returning and to slow growth of cancer that has already spread. Side effects include fatigue, mouth and throat sores, hair loss, vomiting, fever, and decreased resistance to infection.
  • Radiation

    Radiation kills cancer cells by directing high-energy beams at the tumor. Side effects include skin burns and fatigue. According to the American Cancer Society, the use of radiation can also increase the chance of lymphedema (fluid retention and tissue swelling).
  • Medication

    Women with hormone-sensitive tumors may be given medication to block the creation of estrogen or the effects of it. Complications from hormonal therapy include menopausal symptoms, such as vaginal dryness, hot flashes and night sweats. Less common complications include sudden eye problems, dizziness, chest pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, severe headaches, shortness of breath, blood clots and stroke. Some can also cause joint pain, osteoporosis, arthritis and heart-related problems.
  • Emotional

    During or after breast cancer treatment, many women experience emotional stress related to concerns about finances, body image, death or disability, which can result in headaches, fatigue, pain, difficulty sleeping or depression. According to the National Cancer Institute, individuals exposed to traumatic events, such as cancer, may also develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

    References & Resources