Treatments for breast cancer and late effects
The main treatments for breast cancer are surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and newer targeted treatments, such as trastuzumab (Herceptin®).
Surgery and radiotherapy to the breast, especially involving the armpit (axilla), can result in breast and chest pain, limited movement of the shoulder or arm, or swelling of the arm (lymphoedema). Women who’ve had part of the breast removed followed by radiotherapy may find the treated breast shrinks slightly over time so the breasts are a different size from each other. There's more information about these effects on the page about breast and arm changes.
Chemotherapy may cause an early menopause, and some chemotherapy drugs can cause changes in sensation, such as pins and needles or numbness in your hands and feet.
Hormonal therapies can cause side effects similar to menopausal symptoms and some may cause joint pain. Trastuzumab (Herceptin) and some chemotherapy drugs can cause changes in the way the changes in the way the heart works.
Cancer treatment can also cause more general changes in how you feel. You may be more tired than usual for several months after treatment or have difficulty concentrating or remembering things. These effects may improve over time, but some are permanent. Most women have mild treatment effects, which eventually go away over time.
Treatment for breast cancer is constantly developing and women are living for longer as a result of improved treatments. We’re learning more about late effects and how they can be managed. Doctors and researchers are trying to make sure that women get the best treatment, with as few side effects as possible.