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Breast Cancer Treatment With Chemotherapy

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Side Effects of Breast Cancer Chemotherapy

Breast cancer chemotherapy and radiation therapy destroy constantly dividing cancer cells. But they also may affect healthy cells. Medicines used with self-help methods can help ease many of these side effects. It is important to tell your doctor if you are having any problems with these or other side effects not listed:

  • Nausea and vomiting, either the day of treatment, or more commonly, several days after treatment. Nausea on the day of treatment is usually well-controlled, but delayed nausea is harder to manage.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fatigue.
  • Mouth soreness.
  • Hair loss. Whether the hair falls out all at once, gradually, or not at all depends on what drugs are given.
  • Weight gain.
  • Premature menopause. If you are planning to have children, you should discuss this with your doctor before starting chemotherapy, as there may be ways to prevent your periods from stopping or to save ovary tissue.
  • Lowered resistance to infections. Many chemotherapy drugs lower the white blood cell counts in the week or so after treatment. If the blood counts are very low, then an infection can be dangerous.
  • Increased bleeding. Many chemotherapy drugs also lower the platelet counts. Platelets are the body’s first line of defense in blood clotting. If the platelet counts are very low, little red spots start to appear on the body. You may bruise or bleed easily, even without any trauma. If this occurs, your doctor needs to be informed.

For more information about these side effects, see Side Effects of Cancer Drugs and Radiation.

Recognizing a Cancer Emergency

Your doctor and the chemotherapy nurse will let you know what situations would be considered an emergency based on the specific treatment you receive. However, if you have any of the following warning signs, tell your doctor immediately:

  • A temperature greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. If you experience any fever and chills, notify your doctor immediately. If you are unable to contact your doctor, go to the emergency room.
  • New mouth sores or patches, a swollen tongue, or bleeding gums.
  • A dry, burning, scratchy, or "swollen" throat.
  • A cough that is new or persistent and produces mucus.
  • Changes in bladder function, including increased frequency or urgency to go, burning during urination, or blood in your urine.
  • Changes in gastrointestinal function, including heartburn, nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea that lasts longer than two or three days.
  • Blood in stools.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 18, 2014
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