Experiencing side effects from breast cancer treatment is a common occurrence for patients. While systemic chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapy are effective treatments for breast cancer, learning to cope and live with their unwanted or unexpected side effects can be challenging. We reached out to breast cancer patients to hear about their experiences with this. Here is what some patients who were treated with chemotherapy had to say about the side effects they experienced:
“First, I must say how very grateful I am that I survived so far. I had chemotherapy, a double mastectomy for triple negative breast cancer and reconstruction and I am still receiving chemo. First 7 months of chemo was 3 different drugs, one was called “Red Devil” and it truly was. Now I’m on Capecitabine and I have neuropathy in my tongue, my feet and hands, fatigue, and gastrointestinal issues. I also am numb from the breast area to pelvis. I am hopeful over time it will improve. Can’t say enough good things about my care team.”
- Laurie A.
“Docetaxel gave me chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy that still rules my days eight years later. Secondary lymphedema began immediately after a bilateral mastectomy. Brain fog improved but remains an issue. My metabolism has never returned to normal. I still feel like I am sealed in plastic with no way for the heat to escape every night and now, occasionally through the day. This problem has improved over time and is not as severe as the intense hot flashes when chemotherapy threw me into menopause.”
- Janet V.
“Memory and recall severely compromised. Early menopause, hot flashes, night sweats, thinning and hair loss, neuropathy in feet and vaginal dryness/thinning/pain.”
- Rose S.
“Letrozole crippled me so badly I would have to slowly crawl up a flight of stairs. Once I switched to Examestane that went away. Chemo has aged me. I look and feel older. I’m tired and I gained a lot of weight. Only now…4 years later trying to do something about it. It’s harder to come off now. My memory is so bad that I’m currently getting neuro/cognitive testing done to see if there is something else happening. But I’m here and I’m happy about that.”
- Jackie G.
New drug therapies continue to be developed and tested to try and minimize or eliminate toxicity and undesirable side effects while more precisely targeting only cancerous cells. While all new drugs are carefully evaluated before being approved and licensed for use in Canada, sometimes side effects don’t become apparent until they have been in use for long periods of time, or until a wide enough consumer base has been using them. This is one of the reasons that Health Canada instituted the Canada Vigilance Program, to allow consumers and healthcare professionals to report side effects from health-related products including prescription drugs, medical devices, and natural health products, among other items.
It is important that unexpected or unusual side effects from treatments are reported, as this can help identify potential health and safety issues, add to data on the risks or benefits of a health product, communicate changes in safety to industry, hospitals, and healthcare providers, or taking regulatory action like changing information on a product label.