Managing Treatment Side Effects of HER2-Negative Breast Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on March 17, 2023
3 min read

If you have HER2-negative breast cancer, your doctor will recommend one or more treatments. They may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy are also options.

These treatments kill cancer cells or change the way they work. This will likely cause different side effects. You may have them during treatment or even years after you’re through.

If you have any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor. Medications and therapies may help ease your side effects.

Nausea and vomiting. Some breast cancer and pain medicines can make you sick to your stomach. Your doctor might prescribe nausea medication.

Try this:

  • Eat small amounts of food throughout the day so you don’t fill up too quickly.
  • Choose dry, bland foods like crackers and toast.
  • Rinse your mouth before and after meals to get rid of bad tastes.

Pain. Treatment can cause pain in different parts of the body, such as your back, bones, chest, stomach, muscles, and joints. The pain can last for a short or long time. It can go away and come back. Your doctor can prescribe medications, such as over-the-counter or prescription pain medicines.

Try this:

  • Keep a pain diary. Write down the details of your pain, such as where it is and how long it lasts. This will help you doctor better understand and treat it.
  • Take your pain medicines as prescribed. Talk to your cancer team if it’s not under control or if you have any side effects. 
  • Consider acupuncture, physical therapy, massage, and meditation. These practices can help lessen pain.

Fatigue and weakness. About 90% of people feel some fatigue during breast cancer treatment. You feel tired all the time, even when you get enough rest.

Try this:

  • Get out and move every day. Moderate exercise, such as walking, can make you feel less tired.
  • Sleep 7 to 8 hours every night. Try going to sleep and waking up around the same time each day.
  • Plan ahead. Start your day with the tasks that are most important. Then spread the rest of your activities throughout the day. Take breaks when you need them.

Hair loss and changes. Some chemotherapies, as well radiation, hormonal, and targeted therapies, cause your hair to change color, thin, or fall out. This could be upsetting for you and your loved ones.

Try this:

  • Ask your doctor about cooling caps. These chilly caps fit tightly on your head. They slow blood flow to your head, which reduces the amount of chemotherapy drugs that reaches your hair. This may prevent hair loss.
  • Consider cutting or shaving your hair. Your hair loss isn’t as noticeable with short hair. Shaving your head may also prevent scalp irritation or itchiness.
  • Decide on a head covering. It’s up to you if you want to wear a wig, hat, or scarf. Insurance plans may cover wigs, so your doctor can write a prescription for one. Because your scalp is exposed, you’ll need to wear sunscreen or cover it when you’re outside.

Skin issues. Breast cancer treatments sometimes cause dry, itchy, and red skin. Your skin might also be more sensitive than before. If you have deep, bleeding cracks, talk to your doctor, who can prescribe medicine.

Try this:

  • Moisturize your skin. Apply a thick unscented moisturizer or oil, such as baby oil, several times a day.
  • Bathe in lukewarm water. Long, hot showers and baths can dry out your skin, so keep it to 15 minutes or less. Use mild soaps instead of harsh antibacterial kinds.
  • Avoid direct sunlight. Wear protective clothing, and apply sunscreen to all exposed areas.

Depression. As many as 1 in 4 cancer patients have depression at some point. Along with the sadness of a breast cancer diagnosis, treatments often cause pain and fatigue. This may set the stage for depression. If you’ve been feeling down, talk to your doctor. They may prescribe antidepressants and refer you to a therapist.

Try this:

  • Talk about your feelings with friends and family.
  • Join a support group or talk to a counselor.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Getting up and moving can lessen stress and depression.

Brain fog. It’s harder to focus, remember things, and learn new tasks. This mental fog is also called “chemo brain,” but other cancer treatments can cause it, too.

Try this:

  • Write reminders in your planner, smartphone, or notebook. Keep your to-do list, calendar, and schedule in one place.
  • Do one thing at a time instead of multitasking.
  • Try to follow a daily schedule. Keep items, such as keys, in the same place.