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Visible Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatments

Arm Swelling

Doctors call this lymphedema. It's swelling in the arm on the side where you've had breast or lymph node surgery. It can also happen after you get radiation. It’s often a temporary side effect, but it can be permanent. If so, it can affect your quality of life.

You can lessen its impact if you spot the symptoms of it early.


  • Don't ignore any swelling you have in your arm.
  • Avoid injury to the skin of an affected arm.
  • Wear gloves when you garden or do housework.
  • Avoid extreme water-temperature changes.
  • Keep your arm protected from the sun.
  • Avoid getting shots or IVs on your affected arm.
  • Don't carry heavy handbags or wear heavy jewelry on the affected side.

The swelling may affect the type of clothing you can wear. You may need an elastic compression sleeve to control swelling, along with more loose-fitting clothes.

Ask your doctor for a referral to a certified lymphedema therapist. She can show you safe exercises and other techniques to help avoid or reduce swelling.

Weight Gain or Loss

You might have either during your treatment.

Weight loss might be due to nausea, vomiting, or appetite changes.

Weight gain is sometimes brought on by chemotherapy, or hormone therapy, which can both cause early menopause. But some other medications you may take can also cause you to put on extra pounds, as can changes in your diet and being less active.


Now is not the time to diet. Eat nutritious, balanced meals to help yourself stay at a healthy weight, keep up your energy, and heal.

These recommendations may help:

  • Eat plenty of protein, but limit saturated fat, sugar, alcohol, and salt.
  • Eat smaller meals more often throughout the day, especially if you're nauseous.
  • Exercise to help with weight control and keep up your appetite. Exercise helps with other side effects, too, such as fatigue and depression. Ask your doctor what activity level is right for you.
  • Find an exercise partner to help you stick with a routine. Even a few minutes a day can make a positive difference in how you feel.

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