Medical advancements allow us to treat breast cancer more effectively than ever before. However, side effects can occur as a result of treatment. Many breast cancer patients receive some combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy side effects can range from being a temporary nuisance to having a sustained negative impact on quality of life. As oncologists, it is our job to help patients avoid, lessen or completely eliminate such side effects.
What are Some of the Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy?
Fatigue is a frequently cited side effect of breast cancer. Breast cancer treatment takes a physical and emotional toll on patients. Maintaining a nutritious diet and a healthy sleep schedule can help to reduce fatigue.
Loss of appetite is a common side effect of chemotherapy. There are several tips you can follow to help maintain a healthy diet.
- Take advantage of the times that you are hungry to incorporate a snack or meal into your routine.
- Even mild physical activity can do wonders towards stimulating your appetite.
- Calorie-rich and protein-rich shakes can be added as a supplement to your scheduled meals.
- Many chemotherapy drugs can cause temporary dysgeusia, or distortion of taste and smell. Our nutritionist can provide a list of foods that can diminish this effect.
Chemotherapy can result in gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea, constipation, vomiting and nausea. Our providers are able to offer medication recommendations to help control and eliminate these side effects. Dietary adjustments can be made as well. You may be at risk for dehydration if nausea or diarrhea persists. It is important to let your provider know if this occurs as other interventions, such as intravenous hydration, may be indicated.
Increased Risk for Infection
Some breast cancer treatments can temporarily suppress the immune system, which can put you at risk for infection. Be sure to take the proper preventative measures:
- Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer products.
- Try to avoid contact with friends and family who are currently ill with respiratory tract infection (colds, flu, etc.).
- Most patients will benefit from receiving an annual flu vaccination and should be up-to-date with a pneumonia vaccine.
- Safe food handling is important to avoid foodborne illness.
Temporary hair loss is a common side effect to chemotherapy. However, not all patients will experience it. The likelihood and extent of hair loss has a lot to do with which chemotherapy agent you are receiving. To assist patients during this time, we can make recommendations regarding scarf, hat, wig providers. Most health plans will cover these items.
Reducing Chemotherapy Side Effects
Chemotherapy side effects manifest themselves differently in each patient – requiring an individualized approach. At Breastlink, our goal is to minimize, and when possible, eliminate side effects in all of our patients.
If you have any questions about dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer, please contact us.