Leslie received a preliminary breast cancer diagnosis only a few days ago, but she was already afraid of what the road to recovery entailed. Although she was very grateful her condition was treatable, she was not looking forward to experiencing chemotherapy and its grueling side effects, specifically that of hair loss and vomiting. Did the treatments hurt? They might. Leslie wasn’t sure and the unknown worried her. Her family and friends were quick to show their love and support when they heard the news. Her husband and her surgeon promised to walk with her every step of the way. She knew she could count on them to make the burden of cancer a little bit lighter; but it was still a burden, and she was the one who would have to bear the brunt of it.
Like Leslie, many women experience these same fears when diagnosed with breast cancer. Although these fears are certainly justified, breast cancer patients find it easier to reconcile them when presented with accurate information. That being said, I would like to address the top five concerns women have in regards to chemotherapy treatment and its related side effects:
1. Hair loss
Unfortunately, hair loss is inevitable during chemotherapy and is typically the biggest fear among women b In order to fight cancer, chemotherapy kills fast growing cells and the cells that create hair are particularly susceptible. However when the treatment ends, the hair always grows back, usually curly. While losing hair is difficult, many women have made the transition easier by purchasing a wig they love or wearing colorful bandanas to accent their outfits.
2. Severe nausea and vomiting
3. Infection / Neutropenic fever
A life-threatening infection resulting in hospitalization used to be a real problem in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy treatments. Fortunately, thanks to stronger antibiotics and granulocyte stimulating factors, these infections (or neutropenic fevers) are not very common anymore. White blood cells are the body’s defense against infection. When chemotherapy destroys these white blood cells, your body loses its ability to fight infection. Neulasta, a shot administered in the arm, stimulates bone marrow to create more white blood cells, which in turn, increases the ability to fight infections. While the shot does cause intense bone pain a day or two afterwards, the dramatic decrease in the risk of a life-threatening infections is more than worth it.
4. Weight loss
Chemotherapy can cause a decrease in appetite, which typically results in weight loss. It is important for women undergoing chemotherapy treatments to eat balanced meals and drink lots of fluids to give their bodies the fuel they need to fight the cancer. Weight loss can be a sign of poor nutrition, which is why doctors often refer their patients to a dietician if the scale indicates a drastic change in numbers.
Pain is often associated with cancer, but is most considerable in the end stages. Chemotherapy also lessens cancer-related pain because it kills the cells that cause it. There are also many effective pain-control medications available to relieve what the chemotherapy does not.