Managing Symptoms and Side Effects

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Fearing the side effects of breast cancer treatment is normal, but it may help to know that preventing and controlling side effects is a major focus of your healthcare team.

Before starting treatment, talk with your team about which side effects are most likely to happen. Then, once treatment begins, let your healthcare team know what side effects you are experiencing so they can help manage them.

Everyone’s experience with breast cancer treatment is difficult. The specific side effects that may occur during and after treatment depend on a number of factors, including the cancer’s location, your treatment plan and your overall health. However, some of the potential physical, emotional and social effects experienced by people receiving treatment for breast cancer are described in this section.


Cancer and its treatment often cause a persistent sense of tiredness or exhaustion. Most people receiving cancer treatment experience some type of fatigue, which can make even a small effort, such as walking across a room, seem overwhelming. Fatigue often seriously affects people’s daily activities, including the ability to be involved with their family or to socialize. It is important to tell your doctor if you are experiencing fatigue because there are medical and lifestyle interventions your healthcare team can recommend to help.


Pain can be caused by the tumor, the cancer treatment or from causes not related to the cancer. Untreated pain can make other aspects of cancer seem worse, such as fatigue, weakness, nausea, constipation, sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety and mental confusion. Your doctor can help you find an effective pain-relief strategy.


Lymphedema is the abnormal buildup of fluid in the arm or leg caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system. It can happen immediately after surgery or radiation therapy, or months  or years after cancer treatment has ended. In some cases, the swelling goes away on its own as the body heals and normal lymph fluid flow resumes. However, lymphedema may become chronic when the lymphatic system changes and can no longer meet the body’s demand for fluid drainage. There is no cure for chronic lymphedema; however, there are ways to treat it.