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What Problems Might Occur After Breast Cancer?

By Sarah Sullins
Updated May 17, 2024
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Many different physical problems can occur after breast cancer, including mental fogginess, fatigue, lymphedema, and even a condition known as "frozen shoulder." Depression is also a common problem that occurs after this type of cancer treatment is over, even if the treatment was successful. Men and women who have had mastectomies may also suffer from back problems.

There are several types of treatment that victims of breast cancer may undergo to get rid of the cancer in their bodies. These treatments may include a lumpectomy, mastectomy, hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, radiation, or any combination of these options. Many people believe that the side effects that they experience during these treatments will disappear once they are over, but some find that these effects last for a long time afterward.

Fatigue is a frequent symptom noticed by breast cancer survivors. They may not have the energy to do the simple things that they used to do. After breast cancer, a survivor may have to take frequent breaks during the day and rest often. Most doctors explain that this is caused by the massive toll that the surgeries and therapies used to fight cancer can take on the body.

Another problem that occurs frequently after cancer treatment is mental fogginess. This is known as "chemobrain." When this occurs after chemotherapy, women may become forgetful and have trouble focusing. This can be a frustrating problem. Many doctors recommend that women dealing with this issue take the time to write themselves reminders to help with memory problems and to ask for help and delegate tasks where it is possible.

During and after breast cancer, both women and men may have problems with a frozen shoulder and back pain. A frozen shoulder occurs after a mastectomy when the muscles in the shoulder tighten and range of motion is impaired; scar tissue develops quickly and may also contribute to the development of a frozen shoulder. Physical therapy may help to restore range of motion and prevent scar tissue from becoming worse. After a mastectomy, it is common for a person to struggle with standing up straight. This can cause back pain.

Lymphedema is a problem that can occur anytime after breast cancer treatment. It is a condition in which fluid builds up in areas of the body that it should not, such as the arms. In breast cancer patients, this most often occurs after a mastectomy, lumpectomy, radiation, or lymph node removal. These treatments impair the way the fluid in a person’s body flows. Lifestyle changes can be helpful in mitigating the likelihood of developing lymphedema.

Depression is another problem that can happen after breast cancer treatment is over. A survivor may not see herself as the same person as she was before, especially if she has lost her breasts. Treatment by a doctor can help with the depression, as well as exercise, therapy, and support from the survivor's family.

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