Pain (and other Problems) After Breast Cancer: What Women Should Know

A diagnosis of breast cancer isn’t easy for any woman to take, and the prospect of treatment isn’t appealing either. Unfortunately, many women also must contend with pain and other symptoms after treatment.

Studying Side Effects

A study released in early 2017, appearing in the journal Cancer, examined this very topic. Nearly 2,000 women participated in this project, all of whom had been previously diagnosed with early- stage breast cancer. At the onset of the study, the subjects were asked to describe how much they were affected by the seven common breast cancer treatment side effects:
• Nausea and Vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Constipation
• Pain
• Arm Swelling
• Shortness of Breath
• Breast skin irritation
These problems proved to be a widespread, with nearly half (45 percent) reporting severe or very severe levels of at least one side effects. Moreover, the risk of severe side effects doubled among these women following chemotherapy; fortunately, when combined with radiation, the additional threat of side effects was reduced to merely 30 percent.

The Scope of the Problem

The authors expressed surprise at the severity of the women’s post-treatment health woes. “We did know that some of these side effects were associated with these treatments, but we did not know how severe or how common these side
effects were,” stated Dr. Allison Kurian, a study co-author and researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine. In an email to the Reuters news agency, Kurian added that she “found it striking that nearly half of all women treated for early-stage breast cancer reported suffering toxicity that they considered severe or very severe. This emphasizes the prevalence and seriousness of the problem.”

Some of the research team’s most noteworthy findings are shown below:
• Nearly all of the women surveyed (93 percent) suffered at least one side effect after treatment.
• After the appearance of side effects, 90 percent of the participants made at least one clinical visit. Five percent of the women surveyed felt the need to make an emergency room visit to deal with their symptoms.
• The most common reasons why the women scheduled doctors visits? Severe swelling in the arm or skin irritation.
• The participants’ hospital visits occurred in response to arm swelling, diarrhea and intense breathing difficulties.
• About in five women (19 percent) who avoided chemotherapy reported either pain or severe pain. In contrast, 29 percent of subjects treated with this common cancer treatment reported such issues.

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