Managing treatment side effects
Some people may experience side effects to certain medications or treatments. These are perfectly normal. Some of the common side effects are described below:
Lymphoedema – this often presents as swelling of the arm or breast/chest wall on the treated side. This can sometimes be made worse by radiotherapy treatment. Your breast care nurse can give you preventative advice such as avoiding injection, blood pressure measures on the side of your surgery.
If you notice any swelling you are advised to contact your breast care nurse for further advice and possible assessment in our lymphoedema clinic.
Hormonal treatment – As with any medication there are possible side effects but this does not mean that everyone will get them, or that the side effects will last forever.
The most common side effects are hot flushes, weight gain or occasional indigestion. Other side effects may depend on which treatment you are taking but include a vaginal discharge/dryness, mood/emotional changes, light-headedness, dizziness, headaches or skin rashers, thinning of hair, loss of appetite, sickness and diarrhoea, aching and stiffness of the joints.
These symptoms are usually mild and temporary but if they do not improve contact your GP or breast care nurse who will advise you. Any blurred vision, pain or swelling of lower limbs should be reported to your GP.
If you are experiencing hot flushes (which are very common following breast cancer treatment) there are a number of practical things you can do. Many patients find a programme of auricular acupuncture helpful and you can access this service for free. Please contact Coping with Cancer who can give you further information and book you into a programme – 0191 280 5610.
Staying breast aware
You should try to examine your breasts or scars regularly so that you are familiar with the way they look and feel.
If you find a new lump or other abnormality within your breast(s) or near your mastectomy scar, contact the breast care nurses. We will arrange for you to be reviewed by your breast care team and if required you may have a mammogram or ultrasound of the area.
Following your breast cancer treatment, you will be invited to attend for annual mammograms for five years. If after five years and you are under the age of 50 years, you will continue on regular mammograms until you reach the breast screening age.
You will receive an appointment to attend the X-ray department. Your results will be sent via a letter. If you require other investigations such as MRI, they will also receive an appointment.
Caring for your bones
Some breast cancer treatments can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis which makes bones more fragile and easier to fracture (break) now or in the future. This applies to women of all ages. Oestrogen helps to keep our bones strong.
Many treatments for breast cancer suppress (switch off) the ovaries, stop oestrogen production or block the effect of oestrogen in the body. Some treatments affect the bone cells directly.
Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) or osteopaenia (milder bone loss) is diagnosed using a DXA scan. You may need medication to support your bones during your treatment for breast cancer but often there is a lot you can do by improving your lifestyle with a good diet, exercising, not smoking and moderating alcohol intake.