What to Expect After Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, and it also harms healthy cells. That means it often causes unwanted, and sometimes serious, side effects. Ask your oncologist and chemotherapy nurse about each drug's side effects. Everyone doesn't have the same side effects. They depend on the chemotherapy drugs you take and on the drug combinations that are used. Many of these side effects can be controlled and most end during the recovery part of the chemotherapy cycle or after the treatment is done.

Common Side Effects from Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Here's a list of some common side effects that people who take chemotherapy for breast cancer have. They're listed in alphabetical order. Ask your doctor which ones are most likely to happen to you based on the drugs you're taking.

  • Appetite loss

  • Bruising or bleeding easily

  • Diarrhea

  • Hair loss

  • Infections

  • Nausea

  • Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet

  • Mouth sores

  • Skin changes, such as redness or dryness

  • Tiredness

  • Vomiting

Potential Long-Term Side Effects

Some chemotherapy drugs can harm your ovaries and cause long-term side effects if you haven't gone through menopause yet. You may have side effects like these.

  • Hot flashes

  • Inability to get pregnant. Keep in mind, though, that you may still be able to get pregnant during treatment, even if your periods have stopped. And because chemotherapy drugs can cause birth defects, you should talk with your doctor about using birth control before treatment begins. After treatment, you may still be able to get pregnant if you're under 40. But if you're older than 40, permanent infertility is more likely.

  • Irregular periods

  • Vaginal dryness

How to Recognize Signs of Infection

Your doctor will likely take blood samples from you often during your chemotherapy treatments to make sure you aren't having harmful reactions. Make sure you ask your doctor what signs or symptoms, if any, mean you should call your doctor immediately. For instance, chemotherapy can make you more vulnerable to infections, so you should call your doctor if you have any of the following signs or symptoms of infection:

  • Burning during urination

  • Fever

  • Nasal congestion

  • New cough or shortness of breath

  • Redness, swelling, and warmth at the site of an injury

  • Sore throat

  • Shaking chills


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