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Side Effects From Breast Cancer Chemotherapy and Radiation

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Chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer destroy constantly dividing breast cancer cells. But these treatments can also affect healthy cells. Medications and other self-help methods can help ease many of these side effects:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Mouth soreness
  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain
  • Premature menopause
  • Lowered resistance to infections
  • Bleeding
  • Diarrhea

 

Loss of Appetite

Loss of appetite is a common side effect of breast cancer treatment. Try these tips to ensure you are eating a healthy diet during treatment:

  • Eat several small meals during the day, instead of three large meals.
  • Try an "instant breakfast" mix or other nutritional shakes between meals.
  • Eat the largest meal when you are most hungry, which varies from person to person.
  • Drink beverages either a half hour before or after meals so they do not interfere with your appetite.
  • Consider moderate exercise to increase your appetite.

Nausea and Vomiting

Some -- but not all -- cancer patients experience nausea. There are medications you can take to reduce nausea related to chemotherapy. Keep track of when you have nausea. Nausea can occur right after treatment or several days later.

  • Eat small meals frequently and avoid fatty, greasy foods and citrus.
  • Try foods at room temperature instead of very hot or cold.
  • When nauseated, try bland foods like crackers, gelatin, ice chips, rice, plain mashed potatoes, or applesauce.

Contact your doctor if you have severe nausea or frequent vomiting. If you vomit, wait an hour before eating or drinking anything. Then, begin with ice chips and gradually add foods. Chamomile, ginger root tea, or ginger ale can sometimes help settle your stomach.

Weakness and Fatigue

Weakness and fatigue can have many causes, including the treatment itself, worry or depression, not eating, pain, inactivity, and low blood counts.

  • Make sure you get enough rest. Sleep at least eight hours a night and try to lie down during the day to rest if you are still tired. Avoid caffeine late in the day as it interferes with sleep.
  • Exercise. Short walks can actually increase appetite and energy. Exercise can help you rest better, even if you are feeling fatigued.
  • Be choosy about activities. Get help from family and friends with errands and other chores.
  • If you feel pain, let your oncologist know. There is no need to suffer in silence.
  • Eat a diet high in iron.
  • If fatigue is caused by low red blood cell counts (anemia), you may be given a growth factor called erythropoietin or darbepoetin, which stimulates bone marrow to make red blood cells. It can be given by injection, which sometimes can be continued at home. Patients receiving this are carefully monitored for rashes, allergic reactions, and blood pressure.
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