What are the Most Common Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Side Effects?

Jeri Sullivan

Breast cancer chemotherapy side effects may include hair loss, mouth sores, infertility, and nausea. This form of cancer typically starts in the breast tissue and is either ductal or lobular carcinoma. During treatment to eradicate the cancer, the patient may be required to undergo chemotherapy. Chemotherapy refers to a program where multiple chemicals are infused into the bloodstream in an attempt to kill the cancer-containing cells. During the process there are often various breast cancer chemotherapy side effects the patient must address.

Nausea is a common side effect of chemotherapy, especially right after treatment.
Nausea is a common side effect of chemotherapy, especially right after treatment.

Hair loss is a common issue experienced by chemotherapy patients. The loss of hair may be partial or complete, depending on the patient and the type of chemicals administered. The medications that kill the cancer cells also stop other cells from growing, which in turn causes the hair follicles to cease growing. Hundreds of strands of hair shed naturally every day so patients may become completely bald rather quickly since no new hair is growing. Once treatments stop, most patients will begin to regrow their hair.

Proper hydration can help treat dry mouth.
Proper hydration can help treat dry mouth.

Other breast cancer chemotherapy side effects such as infertility are permanent. This is due to the fact that women only have a set number of eggs and when the chemotherapy medications are infused, they may destroy the eggs as well as cancerous cells in the breast tissue. Women who are planning future pregnancies may opt to have some of their eggs harvested and preserved in a cryopreservation lab. The eggs are cooled to very low temperatures and when needed later can be used as part of an in-vitro fertilization process.

Temporary hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy.
Temporary hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy.

Nausea and vomiting are also breast cancer chemotherapy side effects many patients experience. Nausea and vomiting are the result of the chemicals being infused and are typically treated with anti-emetics. Anti-emetics work by blocking the nerve signals that trigger the feeling of nausea. Many patients feel sick approximately 48 hours after their infusion but by taking anti-emetics before they feel sick, the severe bouts of nausea and vomiting may be avoided or at least lessened.

Less common breast cancer chemotherapy side effects such as xerostoma and mouth sores are also treatable. Xerostoma, or dry mouth, is treated by staying hydrated. Patients with dry mouth should drink plenty of fluids before starting their infusion and try to maintain sufficient hydration levels for three to five days after treatment. Patients suffering from mouth sores should refrain from consuming hot and spicy foods or foods with sharp sour tastes such as citrus until the sores are healed.

Although most side effects associated with chemotherapy are temporary, infertility is a permanent condition that affects breast cancer patients.
Although most side effects associated with chemotherapy are temporary, infertility is a permanent condition that affects breast cancer patients.

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