Life after breast cancer (Part 2)
This is a continuation of my article in last week’s Westmeath Examiner.
Late effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy
Some women experience dry cough, breathlessness, and chest pain for the first few months after completing radiation therapy (usually for the first three months) because radiation therapy can cause swelling and fibrosis (thickening and hardening) in the lungs. These symptoms ease with time. Post cancer fatigue is common.
Women who had a chemotherapy drug called trastuzumab or a type of chemotherapy called anthracyclines have an increased risk of developing heart problems, so heart checks are important after surgery for these women. Women who have had a form of breast cancer that is called “oestrogen receptor positive” breast cancer are often prescribed anti-oestrogen drugs such as tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors such as anastrozole or letrozole in the years after the initial cancer treatment as they reduce risk of the cancer returning. Women taking tamoxifen should undergo annual pelvic exams as tamoxifen can increase the risk of developing uterine cancer. It is important for women prescribed tamoxifen to be vigilant for signs of uterine cancer including abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, pelvic pain or pressure or other new symptoms. Women, who are taking an aromatase inhibitor, such as anastrozole (Arimidex®), or letrozole (Femara®), should have a bone density check before starting the drug and then on a regular basis from then on, as they can cause osteoporosis as they can reduce bone density.
Women can have other side effects that continue even after treatment. These can be the after effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Symptoms can include nerve pain (neuropathy), menopausal symptoms (eg. low mood), vaginal dryness, reduced libido (sex drive). Medication may be prescribed for some of these symptoms. Drugs can help relieve neuropathy pain (eg. gabapentin (Neurontin®), pregabalin (Lyrica®)), antidepressants may be required temporarily for menopausal symptoms and painkillers may be required for joint pain.
Women recovering from breast cancer should eat a healthy diet, not smoke, limit alcohol and attend recommended cancer screening appointments. Moderate exercise can help rebuild strength and energy levels and lowers the risk of cancer returning. A healthy balanced diet and avoiding excessive weight gain is associated with a better breast cancer survival rates.
Should I exercise?
After treatment you should try to gradually increase daily activity with the aim of building at least three (more if possible) twenty-minute sessions of moderate activity per week. The main aim is to get your heart rate up. Exercise can also improve mood and sleep, reduce stress, control weight gain, boost self-esteem, and protect against other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Disclaimer: Information given is general only; Consult your healthcare professional for more information
For comprehensive and free health advice and information call in to Whelehans Pharmacies, log on to www.whelehans.ie or dial 04493 34591 (Pearse St) or 04493 10266 (Clonmore).