Living with the Long-Term Side Effects of Chemotherapy

By: Shannon Plunkett, Spring 2019 Communications + Special Events Intern

Chemotherapy is a treatment option for most types of breast cancer.

While many people are familiar with the short-term side effects of chemotherapy treatment — including hair loss, nausea and vomiting — there are some long-term effects of treatment that can linger after treatment is over.

Some of these long-term side effects include early menopause, weight gain, fatigue and decreased cognitive function. These side effects can be frustrating and upsetting; however, with the help of your healthcare provider and team, you can manage these side effects.

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Early Menopause

Chemotherapy drugs can cause your menstrual cycle to stop at an early age. For women under 40, the loss of menstruation is often temporary. For women over 40, it is more common to experience early menopause.

Survivors undergoing early menopause may experience hot flashes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. There are a few remedies to help breast cancer survivors manage these early menopause symptoms, including hormonal treatments, creams, acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy and so much more. Talk to your doctor about managing these symptoms.

Weight Gain

Weight gain is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy, due to changes in metabolism caused by treatment, as well as a less active lifestyle. Weight gain is also more common in women who experience early menopause.

It can be difficult to return to your pre-treatment weight after chemotherapy, but there are many steps you can take to stay healthy and active. Eating three regular meals a day with plenty of protein and healthy fats can help to combat weight gain, as well as drinking plenty of water. If possible, regular physical activity can reduce weight gain as well as fatigue and improve your quality of life during treatment. If weight gain becomes a concern for you, consider seeing a dietician who can help you stay on track.

It is so important to maintain a healthy weight after a breast cancer diagnosis — it can benefit your overall health and may improve survival.

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Cognitive Function

Chemotherapy can cause a mental fogginess that is often referred to as “chemo-brain.” Trouble with memory and concentration are common during and after chemotherapy, and can be worsened if you are also experiencing stress, anxiety or depression. These symptoms can last 1–2 years after treatment, but often improve significantly over time.

To reduce mental fogginess, it can be helpful to write down things you need to remember on calendars or to-do lists, and plan out your schedules in advance. Getting plenty of rest and reaching out for help from your loved ones can make a big difference in your cognitive function during and after treatments.

Chemotherapy treatment is not an easy experience, and can affect your body and life even after treatment ends. However, you can still live a healthy and normal life even if you are experiencing long-term side effects. Be open with your doctors and loved ones about what you are feeling, and know that you can overcome all of the obstacles you may face.

You are not alone in your battle against breast cancer. Susan G. Komen Central and South Jersey is here for you. Connect with our team at komencsnj.org.

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