Controlling the symptoms of secondary breast cancer
The symptoms of secondary breast cancer can often be relieved by treating the cancer.
Sometimes this works quickly and you may notice an improvement within a few days. Sometimes it may take a few weeks before you feel the benefits. But there are also lots of other ways to relieve and control symptoms.
Always let your doctor or specialist nurse know if you have new symptoms or if your symptoms get worse.
Many hospitals have teams with specialist doctors and nurses who have expertise in treating pain and other symptoms (palliative care team). Feeling very tired is a common symptom. You can read tips on how to manage this in our section on coping with fatigue.
There are different types of painkillers, depending on the kind of pain you have, that can effectively control pain. Painkillers are sometimes used in combination. They’re usually given by mouth but can also be given as a skin patch, suppository (put into the back passage) or an injection into the skin.
You’ll usually be advised to:
take your painkillers regularly to give you constant pain control
let your doctor or nurse know if the painkillers aren’t controlling your pain.
Treatments are also used to control pain. Radiotherapy is very effective at treating bone pain and steroids are used to reduce swelling and control pain.
Our section on controlling cancer pain has more information about different ways of controlling pain.
We’ve included some other symptoms and how they can be controlled. If symptoms are a side effect of treatment they will usually improve when treatment is over.
There are many anti-sickness drugs available to help with nausea, which work in different ways. They’re usually given by mouth. But they can also be given as a skin patch, suppositories, or injections under the skin.
take your anti-sickness drugs as prescribed, usually regularly about 20-30 minutes before meals
let your doctor or nurse know if the one you’re taking isn’t working, as another type can be tried.
Constipation can be caused by some chemotherapy drugs, anti-sickness drugs and, often, by painkillers. Your doctor can prescribe a medicine to stimulate the bowel (laxative) for you. Things you can do to help are:
taking more fibre in your diet
drinking plenty of fluids
being more physically active if you can - short regular walks can improve constipation.
There are different causes of breathlessness and the treatments or drugs you’re given will depend on your situation.
Sitting down when you’re doing everyday things such as washing, dressing or making food can help you to manage breathlessness. There are also controlled breathing or relaxation techniques that can help.
If cancer cells spread to the lining of the lungs (pleura) it can cause fluid to build up (called a pleural effusion) making you breathless. This is treated by passing a narrow tube into the chest to drain off the fluid which will improve your breathing straight away.
We have more information about pleural effusions.
Lymphoedema (swelling of the arm)
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Some women with secondary breast cancer may have lymphoedema a result of treatments or because the cancer is blocking the lymph nodes in the armpit.
There are effective ways of reducing the swelling and managing lymphoedema, especially when it’s diagnosed early. If you notice any swelling in your arm or hand contact your specialist doctor or nurse as soon as possible.
Our section on lymphoedema has more information about treating lymphoedema.
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Some women find using that using complementary therapies (alongside their conventional treatments) helps them to feel better and more in control. Some therapies may help to reduce treatment side effects or symptoms and make you feel less anxious.
Complementary therapies, such as relaxation, aromatherapy, acupuncture, meditation or visualisation, may be offered by some hospitals, hospices and cancer support groups.
Let your cancer specialist know if you’re having any therapies that involve taking supplements or other medicines. Some of these may interact with chemotherapy or other treatments.
Our section on complementary therapies has information about different therapies and advice on choosing a therapist.