Breast cancer chemotherapy side-effects

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.

Breast cancer chemotherapy side-effects

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:

Chemotherapy after surgical procedure for breast cancer

After the surgical procedure to destroy and remove the cancerous cells from the breast, the oncophysician may recommend chemotherapy to kill the undetected cancer cells and reduces the risk of recurrence. This can also be termed as Adjuvant chemotherapy.

Adjuvant therapy is also recommended when there is a high risk of recurrence or metastasis (spread in other parts), even after there is no evidence of cancer after surgery. The risk is higher if the cancerous cells are there near lymph nodes near the breast.

Chemotherapy before surgical procedure for breast cancer

When chemotherapy is given before a surgical procedure it’s termed as neoadjuvant therapy to shrink the larger cancer. This can also allow

  • Surgeon to remove cancer completely.
  • Allows the surgeon to remove only the cancerous part rather than the complete breast.
    • Make less invasive lymph node surgery as decreases the disease extent in lymph nodes.
  • Decreases the recurrence of cancer.
  • For the proper understanding of oncophysician that can help them to come over proper prognosis and treatment plan.

Neoadjuvant therapy is usually used for:

  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • HER2-positive breast cancer
  • Triple-negative breast cancer
  • High-grade breast cancers
  • Cancers that have spread in lymph nodes
  • Large breast cancers

Chemotherapy acting as the primary treatment for advance stage breast cancer

When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body and surgery is not possible, chemotherapy is a primary treatment that could be used with targeted therapy.

Certainly, the main aim of chemotherapy is palliative care to improve the quality of life rather than just curing the disease.

Risks involved are-

Chemotherapy is performed all over the body, side effects depend upon the administered drug and the response sent by the body. There are more chances of side effects during the course of treatment. Usually, the side effects are temporary and subside after the treatment. In some cases, chemotherapy may have long or permanent side effects.

Short-term side effects include-

But in the process of fast targeting, chemotherapy drugs can also affect and damage other healthy cells of the body which could be hair follicles, digestive tract, and bone marrow. These side effects often go away after the treatment or in a due course of time after the sessions are completed. However, in some cases, they may show long-lasting side effects-

Common short-term side effects are:

  • Hair loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Mouth sores
  • Skin and nail changes
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased risk of developing an infection
  • Neurological damage (neuropathy)

Problems like memory loss or concentration, also known as chemo brain

Long-term side effects are-

There are certain drugs of breast cancer that can cause long term side effects also-

  • Infertility. One of the severe and possible side effects is infertility which may not go away with time. In females, some chemotherapy drugs can damage the ovaries, and some may experience menopausal symptoms like itching, vaginal dryness, etc.  Amenorrhea or irregular periods can also hit the body. In case ovulation affects the body, it may affect pregnancy as well.
    Permanent or premature menopause could also affect the body depending on the age. One must always have a discussion with the physician for the probable effects and side effects.
    If you continue to menstruate, you may still be able to get pregnant, even during treatment or after treatment is completed. But because the effects of chemotherapy are dangerous to the fetus, talk with your doctor about appropriate birth control options before treatment begins.

  • Thinning of bone.Those women who experience early menopausal stage due chemotherapy have more chances of diseases like osteoporosis and osteopenia (bone thinning). In such a condition its more important to have regular bone density test and treatment for future.
  • Damage in heart. Chemotherapy can also hamper the heart muscles and cause heart problems. Chemotherapeutic drugs can also cause more risk in heart problems.
  • Leukemia. Sometimes, Chemotherapy on breast cancer can arise secondary cancer, like leukemia. This condition is rare and may happen after several years of completed sessions of chemotherapy.

Other side effects include-

Other side effects include fear, sadness, and loneliness which can be witnessed as physical and mental side effects both during and after treatment. It’s important to maintain a regular consultation from the concerned oncophysician and team. This will give rise to completing treatment in the best possible manner. The fear of recurrence or any other doubt could be resolved by the team.  

Cancer is a disease that majorly affects the mental health of the patient hence its important to consult a mental health professional, with whom one can discuss the condition. One can also connect with communities working in the same field and connect with the patients who have been treated and are doing fine in their lives.

You are not alone in this journey, One visit and One consultation could change a lot!

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