Plastic Surgery Blog

Life After Breast Cancer

The breast cancer survivors I’ve known well have told me dealing with the following issues can be just as challenging as chemo and radiation:

MEDICATIONS FOR AFTER-CARE
The drug Tamoxifen, which blocks estrogen from inducing new cancer cells to grow, is recommended for 5 years after breast surgery. However, Tamoxifen, and other selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), have side effects which are often severe: uterine cancers, blood clots, high blood-calcium levels and increased risk of heart attacks.

The website www.cancer.org also describes aromatase inhibitors (AIs), which stop post-menopausal women from making estrogen. Using an AI for 5 years after one has stopped Tamoxifen increases the probability cancer won’t return. AIs might have less side effects than Tamoxifen, but they can cause muscle and joint pain similar to that of advanced arthritis. In addition, AIs often engender osteoporosis and fractures.

CHEMO BRAIN
Ever hear a breast cancer survivor describe symptoms like short attention span, trouble recalling familiar names and dates, difficulty multi-tasking, and slower thinking? Doctors call this syndrome “post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment”, but it also can be brought on by the cancer itself, anti-nausea drugs, pain meds., low blood counts, fatigue, infections, hormone changes, depression and stress. One can manage the effects of chemo brain, but it takes some work: Make daily “to do” lists, exercise your brain with puzzles, engage in daily physical activity, eat your veggies, ask for help from family/friends and keep a diary which tracks when your brain fog becomes worse. Medication adjustments might help.

DIET CHANGES
The site www.eattobeat.org offers recipes made of the fruits, veggies and lean proteins which not only help us avoid the saturated fats associated with some breast cancers, but which offer properties that suppress the blood vessels that nourish tumors.

SEXUAL PROBLEMS
Health Magazine in 2011 revealed 7 in 10 breast cancer survivors have sexual problems, mostly caused by AI drugs, by menopausal symptoms brought on by treatments and by mastectomies creating poor body image. Once again—dealing with these issues requires determination. Women should share their symptoms/fears with their physicians—and their husbands. And, survivors must be open to using non-hormonal treatments for hot-flashes, vaginal moisturizers, and lubricants.

CONCLUSION
Life after breast cancer can involve many choices and much effort. But, by quickly sharing concerns with physicians, by accepting lifestyle changes and with support from family and friends, these challenges can be met!

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