Possible late effects of treatment for breast cancer in men

Most side effects from treatment for breast cancer go away during or shortly after treatment ends. But sometimes side effects last longer, or they develop months or years later. These are called long-term and late effects.

Long-term and late effects may improve on their own. If they don’t, they can usually be managed or treated. Always let your doctor know about side effects so they can help.

Long-term and late effects of breast cancer treatment can include:

  • chest and arm changes
  • effects on your bones
  • effects on your heart
  • tiredness
  • numbness or tingling (peripheral neuropathy)
  • chemo brain
  • effects on your sex life and fertility.

You can also make lifestyle changes to keep healthy. These include keeping active, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and sticking to drinking guidelines.

Long-term and late effects of treatment

Most men have side effects during, and for a few weeks after treatment for breast cancer. But occasionally some side effects don’t go away (long-term effects), or side effects develop months or years later (late effects).

These side effects may be mild. Or they may be more troublesome and interfere with your daily life. Some may eventually go away or improve on their own. Others can usually be managed or treated successfully.

Always let your cancer doctor or specialist nurse know about side effects that don’t go away or if you have new symptoms after treatment.


Chest and arm changes

Surgery and radiotherapy can cause changes to your chest, shoulder and arm. Often these changes get better after treatment. But some changes become permanent or start months or years after treatment. Tell your breast care nurse if you have any of these or if there’s anything you are worried about.

Cording

This is an uncomfortable feeling like a tight cord running from the armpit to your hand. This is called cording. It can happen weeks or months after surgery and usually gets better over a few months. You may need physiotherapy and massage to improve it.

Pain and changes in sensation

Rarely some men have numbness, tingling or pain in the upper arm, because the nerves have been affected by surgery. Your doctor can prescribe low doses of anti-depressant drugs and anti-convulsants (drugs to stop fits) to improve these symptoms. They help to reduce the pain caused by nerve damage.

Changes to your arm/shoulder movement

Arm and shoulder movement and strength usually improve after surgery. Doing your exercises helps reduce the risk of long-term problems. If you have problems, ask your doctor for a referral to a physiotherapist. If moving your shoulder or arm is painful, your doctor can prescribe you some painkillers.

Lymphoedema

Surgery or radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in the armpit can sometimes lead to a swelling of the arm called lymphoedema. If you notice any swelling, speak to your breast care nurse or doctor. The earlier the treatment for lymphoedema begins, the more effective it can be.

Skin changes

After radiotherapy you may notice red ‘spidery’ marks (telangiectasia) appearing on your chest. This is caused by radiotherapy damage to the small blood vessels in the skin, but it’s harmless.


Effects on the bones

Hormonal therapies may cause bone thinning. Aromatase inhibitors can cause bone thinning (osteoporosis) in women, but it’s not clear if this happens to the same extent in men. Zoladex may cause bone thinning when it’s given over a longer period of time.

It’s a good idea to look after your bones. Keeping physically active, eating a healthy diet with enough calcium and vitamin D, and not smoking helps to keep your bones healthy.

It’s rare for radiotherapy to cause bone problems. But occasionally it causes long-term damage to  the ribs in the treated area. Let your doctor know if you notice any pain in that area.


Effects on the heart

Some treatments for breast cancer may increase the risk of getting heart problems later in life. Look after yourself by keeping physically active, eating healthily, not smoking and sticking to sensible drinking guidelines.

Trastuzumab may lead to changes in the way your heart works. Usually, any effect is mild and reversible. You’ll have tests to check your heart before and during treatment to make sure the drug isn’t causing any damage. You may be given heart medicines to prevent heart problems or to treat any that develop.

It’s not common for radiotherapy or chemotherapy to cause heart problems. Let your doctor know if you notice any problems with your breathing or have any chest pain.


Other long-term and late effects