What happens after breast cancer treatment?
Those who have endured breast cancer, surgery, and treatments, know the body still needs to heal. It affects everyone differently, but conditions that linger or develop are another challenge.
For younger women, infertility and early menopausal symptoms can occur. Menopausal hormone therapy or replacement therapy are options. Medication such as tamoxifen may be taken as a long-term aid for the reproductive system, although it doesn’t work for all women.
Heart problems are also known to be linked to chemotherapy and radiation.
“Yes, some conventional chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer can increase your risk of heart problems,” says Joerg Herrmann, M.D., in a report from the Mayo Clinic. “Heart problems can also happen with newer targeted therapy drugs and with radiation therapy.”
Zannia Cruz of Orlando underwent heart testing during her double mastectomy, chemo, and radiation for that reason, with no negative results. Her oncologist includes it as a standard procedure during and after treatment.
Five tips from the Susan G. Komen website to improve cognitive function:
- Plan your day to do the things that need the most thinking when you feel your best
- Get extra rest at night, but limit naps during the day to less than one hour
- Write down or record things you want to remember
- Do puzzles or play games for mental exercise
However, she was not so fortunate to avoid lymphedema, a common after-effect of cancer treatment. It has prevented her from returning to work as a dental hygienist.
“It was diagnosed two months ago,” she says. Her last radiation treatment, following chemo, was more than two years ago. “I knew something was wrong with my right arm for a long time around my chest, hand, and underarm where the lymph nodes were removed. It has affected the strength of my arm. It’s painful at times and limits the flexibility of the joints.”
Lymphedema is the leaking of lymph fluid as a result of lymph nodes being removed during the mastectomy or as a result of radiation. In breast cancer patients, it typically collects in the arm, causing swelling, blemishes, and pain.
There is no cure, only physical therapy, massage, and light exercise. Compression gloves and sleeves are also used to ease the pain, manage lymphatic drainage, and improve circulation.
There are many other effects of breast cancer treatment that occur. The impacts of breast cancer are devastating, which is no surprise to anyone. However, it goes well beyond the treatment, which may surprise some. As Breast Cancer Awareness Month closes, please give all breast cancer patients an extra smile. They are still fighting.