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Managing the Visible Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatments

Visible side effects from breast cancer treatment range from breast changes to hair loss. Although these can take a physical and emotional toll on a person, there is a lot you can do to make yourself look and feel better during treatment.

WebMD provides tips to help you overcome the visible signs of breast cancer treatment so that you can feel good about yourself.

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Visible side effects of breast cancer treatments: Breast changes

The first visible side effect of breast cancer treatment you may have to overcome is having part or all of your breast (s) removed. If you've had a mastectomy, you may choose to use an external prosthesis as an alternative to, or prior to, breast reconstruction surgery. When wearing a breast prosthesis, you tuck it into a bra or attach it to your skin with double-sided tape.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when getting a breast prosthesis.

  • Get a prescription for an external prosthesis; then usually it can be covered by insurance.
  • Ask your oncologist for referral to a specialized store that sells external prostheses. You can also find them in some lingerie departments.
  • Make an appointment with a breast prosthesis consultant and allow about an hour to get fitted.
  • Try a variety of prostheses to see which feels and looks the best on you.

Visible side effects of breast cancer treatments: Hair loss

Why do so many people lose their hair when they begin chemotherapy? It's because chemo kills fast-growing cells, whether they're cancer or normal cells. Hair follicles are fast-growing cells. Hair loss varies from person to person and depends on the type of chemo you're taking. Radiation and hormonal treatments may also cause hair loss.

What to expect with hair loss

If you lose hair, it is likely to fall out within one to two weeks of starting chemotherapy. It may thin or fall out almost all at once. It's common to lose hair over your whole body, not just on your head. This means you may lose eyelashes and eyebrows, as well as arm, leg, and pubic hair.

You can't prevent hair loss with ice caps or other measures. But using a mild shampoo, soft hairbrush, or cool blow-drying may slightly reduce your hair loss.

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