Dealing with breast cancer and breast cancer treatments can be a long and exhausting road — but not impossible. If you’re looking for help on how to handle breast cancer side effects, we’re here to help.
What are the side effects of breast cancer treatments?
Side effects range from mild to severe and affect every patient differently. While we list the most common that can be treated at home, there are some that you may experience and need professional help with. Always talk to your doctor about the best treatment options and how to deal with your individual side effects
How does breast cancer affect a person’s daily life?
Again, side effects of breast cancer and treatments vary from person to person. However, the most common ways that breast cancer and treatment affect a person’s daily life are;
- Hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic breast pain
- Dry skin
- Itchy skin
- Nerve damage
While there are other side effects that may come and go, or be lifelong, these are the most commonly reported.
Related: How To Deal With Fatigue During Breast Cancer Treatment
How does breast cancer affect your body?
While the above side effects affect both bodily function and mental health, there are a few side effects that you may have that concern just your body.
- Scars from treatments
- Nerve damage and pain
- Weight gain or loss
- Hair loss or thinning
- Painful sex
Do you experience any of these symptoms? If so, we do have some recommendations below on natural or homemade ways to treat them. But of course, you can also talk to your doctor or team if you need additional support.
Does having breast cancer make you tired?
Yes, many patients report feeling tired and fatigued, both during first being diagnosed and during their treatment plan. And, in some cases, fatigue can be chronic, even after treatment and recovery.
This is normal, and it’s important to honor your body and mind as much as you can during your treatment and recovery. Take naps, rest as much as you can, drink plenty of water, and take any supplements that your doctor recommends.
How To Handle Breast Cancer Side Effects: What To Know
Now that you know you’re not alone in feeling the way you do, let’s talk about what you can do about it to feel more like yourself.
Keep in mind that many of these treatments are naturopathic and things that you can do at home. However, in some cases, additional help from your doctor may be required. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and voice your concerns. They are there to help you get back to as close to normal as possible.
Nerve Damage After Chemotherapy
Many doctors recommend a few natural ways to reduce nerve damage after chemotherapy.
The first is regular exercise. This may be uncomfortable or even slightly painful at first. But exercise increases the blood flow to your hands and feet, which can offer temporary relief from pain. And it can improve tingling and numbness in your hands and feet. Workouts should be discussed with your doctor and low in impact — like swimming, yoga, or walking.
Along with diet, a whole foods diet approach is helpful too. Focus on fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and drink plenty of water. And, supplements like vitamin E, calcium, and magnesium have been shown to aid in preventing and healing neuropathy.
Last but not least, certain lotions can ease symptoms too. You can massage your painful areas with lotions that contain ingredients like cocoa butter or menthol for a cooling and moisturizing feeling.
If you need additional support and are willing to take medications in addition to these steps, ask your doctor about medications like Lyrica, Cymbalta, Celebrex, and Lipoderm Patch.
Related: Breast Cancer vs. Health Insurance: What You Need To Know
Fingernail and toenail issues like discoloration, ridges on nail beds, and infections are common when breast cancer patients are receiving treatments like chemotherapy or radiation.
You may not be able to prevent these nail changes, but there are some things you can do.
First, check your hands and feet often to note any changes. Let your health care team know as soon as you see these changes, as there could be more serious underlying problems. If you get the all-clear, the next steps are home remedies you can try.
Use a water-soluble nail strengthener on nail ridges to strengthen and protect the nail and nail bed. Also, keep your nails short, and don’t get acrylics, gel, or any other implant.
Keep your nails clean, and protect them when working with water (like during dishwashing). Wear gloves and keep your hands dry as much as possible.
For your toes, remember to wear loose-fitting shoes so your nails aren’t rubbing against the canvas and adding extra pressure.
If you start taking a taxane drug, you can apply cold packs to your nails for 15 minutes before taking, 15 minutes during the infusion, and 15 minutes after.
Dealing with dry skin? You aren’t alone. And there are many things you can do to relieve your skin, even if just temporarily. Let’s talk about them.
Get A Handle On Pruritus
Pruritus is notorious in patients undergoing chemotherapy. This is because the drugs and treatments lower your immune system, which in turn can cause dry, itchy, and inflamed skin.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend antihistamines or a steroid cream if the symptom is moderate or severe. But, if your case is mild, or if you want a more natural way of treating it, there are a few things you can do.
The first is to lower the temperature of your bathing and washing water. You want to use warm, not hot water. And, use a mild soap without fragrances or colors, as well as a gentle washcloth.
To keep your skin moisturized from the inside out, drink a lot of water and stay hydrated. And, use skin creams or lotion regularly, including Aquaphor, right after getting out of the water to trap in moisture. Other options like aloe vera, cocoa butter, and menthol-based lotions work too.
Last but not least, don’t forget your clothes. Wear roomy and comfortable clothes, as constricting clothes can irritate your skin. And, if you haven’t yet, switch to a gentle and hypoallergenic detergent so harsh chemicals don’t dry out your skin or cause a reaction.
Itchy & Dry Eyelids
If the rest of your skin seems fine, but you have itchy and dry eyelids, all hope isn’t lost. You can use most of the steps above, like being gentle and moisturizing as much as possible.
But, remember to also avoid retinol or harsh eye creams if you have itchy or dry eyelids. These can dry your skin out more, and may even clash with prescribed medications.
Lack of Hair Growth
One of the most common symptoms that breast cancer patients deal with during and after treatment is hair loss or thinning, for both the hair on their head and their eyelashes.
While sometimes hair growth will require implants or prescribed medication, milder and moderate cases may just need a little TLC.
First, a diet with plenty of protein, iron, B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin A is helpful. So don’t be afraid to eat the rainbow and focus on whole foods. And, supplements like biotin, collagen, and omega-3 fish oil can reduce inflammation and strengthen hair strands for fuller hair.
For eyelashes, be careful about wearing makeup, and try to go bare or as natural as possible to avoid build-up and damage. Also, don’t use an eyelash curler, as this can break off brittle and dry lashes. You can use growth serums and conditioning gels, like peptide complexes, or even vitamin E oil, to encourage growth.
For hair, limit styling the hair as much as possible, and avoid harsh chemicals like straightening solutions, perms, and hair dye. You won’t have to do this forever, but avoiding them at first can help strengthen your hair during those first few months after treatment. Use gentle shampoos and conditioners, and massage your scalp regularly to boost blood flow.
Next up, you can use essential oils like rosemary oil, in a carrier oil like castor oil, and apply it to your scalp and eyelashes. Rosemary oil has been studied to boost hair growth. You can also steep rosemary in oil and use that too. But, always check with your medical team before using anything new.
Related: Twelve Thoughtful Gifts For Breast Cancer Patients
How To Handle Breast Cancer Side Effects And Live A Normal Life
It can be difficult getting back to normal and feeling more like yourself after cancer treatment. But, it’s possible, and you don’t always have to spend the funds or time to feel better. In fact, sometimes, home treatments can be worth it and just as helpful!