Side effects

Side effects are unwanted reactions to medical treatments. If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, treating the cancer is the top priority. At the same time, side effects can impact your life in challenging ways. For many people, side effects are among the most upsetting parts of being treated for breast cancer. Still, there are many things you can do to help prevent and manage side effects.

Each person diagnosed with breast cancer is unique. So is each treatment plan, and different people experience different side effects. For example, some chemotherapies cause hair loss; others don't. And some people experience nauseainfo-icon or weight gain during treatment, while others may not.

Side effects can be short-term or last longer (long-term effects). Side effects can also happen at different times: during treatment, or months or years afterward. Those — the ones that show up years after treatment has ended — are called late effectsinfo-icon.

There are many different types of side effects, and whether they happen depends on many things, including:

  • The type of treatment being used
  • The treatment doseinfo-icon   
  • Other treatments being taken at the same time
  • How your individual body reacts to a medicineinfo-icon

We know that side effects don’t just impact your body — they can affect your sense of emotional wellbeing, too. You may look different than you did before your diagnosisinfo-icon. You may feel different physically, and how you feel about your body may change.

On a practical level, side effects can sometimes mean changes to your daily routine. Recovering from surgeryinfo-icon can impact an exercise regimeninfo-icon. Chemotherapyinfo-icon can sometimes affect appetite and diet.

At LBBC, we’re here for you with support for managing side effects. Many side effects are temporary, and most can be reduced. On this page, we’ll share links to more information about different side effects: what they can feel like, when and how likely they are to occur, and the treatments that may cause them.

We’ll also share tips for talking about side effects, and ways to start a conversation with your doctors. Talking openly with your healthcare team can help.

It’s important to know that symptoms of breast cancer are different than the side effects of breast cancer treatment. For more information about symptoms of breast cancer, visit Breast cancer signs and symptoms

On this page:

Common side effects

Here are some of the common side effects that can happen with different breast cancer treatments. Not everyone will experience every side effectinfo-icon. On each page below, we’ll walk you through tips and strategies for managing them if they do happen.

Practical and personal issues

Breast cancer affects more than just your breasts. It can impact your quality of lifeinfo-icon: your day-to-day routines and the person you know yourself to be, emotionally and physically.

  • Surgeries such as mastectomyinfo-icon or hair loss from chemotherapy are just some examples of how treatment can change the way you feel about your physical self — your body image.
  • A breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can also have emotional side effects.
  • If you are young and premenopausalinfo-icon (still having menstrual periods), breast cancer treatments can affect your fertility.
  • Hair loss may affects the way you view your body and femininity.

Still, there are many ways to manage body imageinfo-icon and emotional issues that can come up, including one-on-one counselinginfo-icon and support groups. You can learn more by visiting our Finding support page.

Treatment side effects

Here are the most common breast cancer treatments that can cause side effects: 

While there can be many different side effects with different treatments, remember that not everyone experiences every side effect. Your healthcare team can help you prevent or manage the ones that do happen.

Reporting side effects

If you’re experiencing a side effect that’s concerning to you, let your doctor know. Most treatments for breast cancer have well-known side effects. Treatments that are newly approved may have rare side effects. If you’re trying a newly approved treatment and have a side effect that wasn’t expected, talk with your doctor about the possibility of reporting it to the Food and Drug Administrationinfo-icon (FDAinfo-icon). Reporting rare side effects lets the FDA know about any unexpected risks with a new drug, and can help protect public health. To learn more, visit FDA.

Personal stories

Meagan AndersonMeagan Anderson was treated for stage II breast cancerinfo-icon when she was 21 and didn’t expect to have sexual side effects. “I …wish I had known about sexual changes. Barely anyone talks about it, but they are so huge! …I think it should be more openly discussed so that others don’t have to feel weird or like it’s taboo to talk openly about it with their providers.” Read more of Meagan’s story at What I wish I knew: A young woman’s reflections.
 

“After chemo, I was put on the aromatase inhibitor letrozole (Femara) and got a monthly injectioninfo-icon with goserelin (Zoladex), both hormonal therapies. The achiness got worse. I used a heating pad, lidocaineinfo-icon patches, anything to try to get relief. There were times I felt I couldn’t get out of bed. …Once I started taking more vitamin D, I felt better. And when my oncologistinfo-icon changed me from letrozoleinfo-icon to exemestaneinfo-icon (Aromasininfo-icon), my body felt much better,” says Kiana Wooten, who was treated for breast cancer at age 34. Read Kiana’s story in her Bone loss from treatment blog.

 

 

Updated 
February 4, 2022
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