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Managing the Visible Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatments

Visible side effects of breast cancer treatments: Lymphedema

Lymphedema is swelling in the arm on the side where you've had breast or lymph node surgery. It can also occur following radiation. Lymphedema happens when lymphatic fluid doesn't drain properly. It can be a temporary side effect or it can permanently and dramatically affect your quality of life. You can reduce its impact if you catch it early. To lessen its impact and reduce the risk of infection:

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

Because of swelling, lymphedema may affect the type of clothing you can wear. In addition to an elastic compression sleeve used to control swelling, you may need to wear more loose-fitting clothing.

Visible side effects of breast cancer treatments: Weight gain or loss

With breast cancer treatment, you may have either weight loss or weight gain. Weight loss may be the result of nausea, vomiting, or appetite changes. Weight gain is sometimes caused by eating different foods than usual, being less active, becoming depressed, or going through early menopause, which can result from endocrine treatment.

Tips for managing weight gain or loss

Whatever you do, now is not the time to diet. Nutritious, balanced meals are important to maintain weight and energy levels and to help with healing. These are a few guidelines that 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 are nauseous.
  • Exercise to help with weight control and maintain appetite. Exercise helps with other side effects, too, such as fatigue or depression.
  • 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.

 

Visible side effects of breast cancer treatments: Skin and nail changes

A variety of skin and nail changes may follow chemotherapy, radiation, or endocrine treatment. 

What to expect with skin changes

Skin changes associated with breast cancer treatments may include:

  • Redness
  • Rash
  • Dryness
  • Inflammation
  • Darkening of veins

Redness from radiation and certain types of chemo may get worse if you expose your skin to the sun. 

Though rare, skin damage can occur if chemo drugs given intravenously leak onto the skin. 

Let your health care provider know about any breaks or cuts in your skin, which can become infected.

What to expect with nail changes

Nail beds may become darkened or discolored. Nails may crack, split, or become rigid. Sometimes nails even lift off the nail bed. If this happens, the risk of infection increases. Tell your health care provider if this occurs.

WebMD Medical Reference

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