Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment Last For Years: Study

New research suggests that even when breast cancer treatments leads to full remission and survival, women may be plagued by serious problems and side effects for years. 

One or more complications resulting from breast cancer treatments, such as skin problems, swollen limbs and functional limitations, can last for more than six years and likely affect most of the 2.6 million breast cancer survivors nationwide, according to the findings of a study announced last month by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

Researchers collaborated with Australian scientists, looking at data on 287 Australian women who had invasive, unilateral breast cancer over a median of 6.6 years. According to the findings, more than 60 percent of survivors report suffering at least one side effect of breast cancer treatment six years after their initial diagnosis, and 30 percent report suffering from more than one complication.

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There are a battery of treatments for breast cancer, many of them harsh on the human body. They can include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation treatment and hormone therapy. Side effects reported by participants in the study included skin irritation, upper body problems and functional limitations, weight gain, fatigue and a painful swelling of the limbs known as lymphedema. All of the complications, except weight gain and lymphedema, decreased with time, researchers found.

In many cases the breast cancer treatment side effects could be addressed through rehabilitative exercise, researchers concluded. However, they also pointed out in an editorial that it was difficult to properly monitor breast cancer survivors for problems. They often receive care at different hospitals at different stages of the disease, and some health care professionals accept the side effects as expected problems that are to be endured instead of alleviated.

Researchers recommended better surveying of breast cancer survivors and incorporating rehabilitation and exercise into breast cancer survivor programs.


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