Treatment coping strategies
Coping with breast cancer diagnosis and breast cancer treatment can be challenging. That's why we've provided practical health information to help you take care of yourself during treatment and beyond. This information can help you develop strategies for coping with everything from medication side effects to remembering to take your medication.
Some of this information may already be familiar to you. And there may be more that you don't know—particularly about the role your treatment plays in helping reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Everyone's different, so be sure to talk to your doctor about treatment coping options that are appropriate for you.
What symptoms might you experience during breast cancer treatment?
Breast cancer treatments may cause side effects. Some of the most common symptoms are listed below.
Depending on the type of medication you are taking, side effects may vary. Fortunately, there may be things you can do to manage some of these side effects.
If side effects cause you serious discomfort, notify your doctor immediately. Don't stop taking any breast cancer treatment your doctor has prescribed without talking to him or her first.
You should know that this list is not complete. Please talk to your doctor if you experience any side effects from breast cancer treatment. And, as always, follow your doctor's orders.
Coping with hot flashes
Hot flashes are one of the most common side effects of hormonal treatment, and have a lot to do with the hormonal changes within your body. These changes can be caused by menopause and medication, and may be influenced by lifestyle.
Here are some common hot-flash triggers.
- Spicy foods
- Hot rooms
- Confined spaces
It may help to write down when your hot flashes occur, and what you were eating, doing, and feeling at the time. That way, you can start to figure out what things trigger your hot flashes—and try to avoid them if you can.
Talk to your doctor about certain medications that reduce hot-flash triggers inside the brain. They may be an option that's right for you.
You may also want to try adjusting the timing of your hormonal treatment. Start by figuring out how much time passes from when you take your hormonal treatment to your hot flash. You can then choose to take your pill at a time that leads to a hot flash at the least inconvenient time. Once you decide what time of the day is best for you, be sure to take your pill at the same time every day.
Many women find that stress is one of the most common triggers of hot flashes. To help avoid being stressed out, try these ideas.
- Try meditation or yoga. Make sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program
- Watch a funny movie. Laughter can not only reduce your stress, but it can also boost your immune system
- Get moving. Even moderate levels of activity have been shown to lower stress in women going through menopause. Consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program
Coping with nausea and vomiting
Certain cancer treatments can change the way your body responds to food. You may, for example, experience symptoms of nausea and vomiting, or changes in taste, smell, or bowel habits, as a result of these treatments. While symptoms are usually temporary, you may need to adjust what, when, and how you eat to keep up your strength during treatment.
On days when you simply can't bring yourself to eat, don't worry. Just do what you can to make yourself feel better, and get back to eating as soon as you can. If your appetite doesn't return in a few days, talk to your doctor. Specific medications may help. Let your doctor know if nausea/vomiting is interfering with your daily activities. He or she can discuss treatment options with you.
Coping with joint symptoms
Some women taking hormonal treatment may experience joint pain.
Sometimes this joint pain is the result of taking hormonal treatment, like aromatase inhibitors, and sometimes it can be a result of a pre-existing joint condition.
- Talk to your doctor to discuss treatment options, such as over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, or prescription pain relievers
- Apply a little heat. Try using a heat pack or taking a hot shower
Coping with bone loss
postmenopausal women in general may be at increased risk for bone loss (osteoporosis) due to decreasing estrogen in the body. Certain hormonal treatments for breast cancer can increase this risk. The impact breast cancer can have on your bones depends on several factors, including :
- How strong your bones were before you were diagnosed with breast cancer
- Which type of breast cancer treatments you receive
- Your menopausal status
- Make sure you eat a balanced diet full of calcium and vitamin D
- Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, can help. Consider doing it with a friend to help stay motivated. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program
- Avoid smoking and limit your alcohol consumption
Talk to your doctor to see if you need to do a bone mineral density (BMD) test to help determine if you are at risk for osteoporosis.
Coping with weakness and fatigue
- Treatment-related fatigue can be physically and mentally draining
- Unlike normal tiredness—relieved by rest, exercise, or a good night's sleep—fatigue brought on by cancer treatments can leave you feeling "wiped out," even after getting plenty of rest. It may also make it hard to concentrate or think clearly
- Don't overdo it. Be aware of your energy levels and pace yourself accordingly. Listen to your body
- If you can't beat fatigue with rest or moderate activity, talk to your doctor. Treatment-related fatigue can also be related to anemia — a manageable condition that occurs when your red blood cell count is low
Coping with swelling (lymphedema)
Some women who have had breast cancer that affected the lymph nodes may develop lymphedema. This is a swelling of the arm that is caused by an accumulation of lymphatic system fluid. It sometimes occurs after surgery or radiation treatment for breast cancer. Some warning signs include increased thickness of your skin, a feeling of tightness, and decreased flexibility.
These precautions may help you avoid or manage lymphedema.
- Carry your handbag or shopping bags on the unaffected arm
- Wear gloves when gardening or washing dishes to protect yourself from infection
- Apply moisturizing cream to the arm daily
- Avoid wearing anything tight on the affected arm, including clothing, watchbands, or bracelets
- Use your unaffected arm for blood tests, injections, and blood pressure checks whenever possible
- Keep your affected arm elevated when possible and when resting
- Wear a compression sleeve to help pooling fluid drain
- Ask about massage for the affected arm
- Perform gentle exercises to maintain flexibility and range of motion
- Call your doctor if your arm or hand becomes red, warm, or swollen. You may have an infection that requires immediate treatment
Need a reminder to refill your prescription? We'll send you an e-mail reminder before your next prescription needs to be filled. Sign up for your refill reminder.