Truly Dreadful Things Breast Cancer Does to Your Body

A cancer diagnosis can deliver a devastating blow. From wondering how you’ll handle treatment to learning to live with uncertainty. Any cancer diagnosis can be a tough path for just about anyone to walk.

Those diagnosed with breast cancer face a unique set of issues. While fewer women are being diagnosed and dying from breast cancer, they still have to deal with the physical and emotional toll from the disease and treatment. Whether it’s the disease itself, treatment, or reconstruction, here is what the experience can do to your body and mind.

1. Breast pain and skin irritation

Sick woman with heart attack,

Irritation may occur | SIphotography/iStock/Getty Images

Breast cancer indications may include breast pain and/or irritation. A rash or skin resembling an “orange peel” may be a sign of breast cancer. Also, having pain in one or both breasts that won’t go away should be checked by your doctor.

Next: This may be another sign of breast cancer.

2. Breast swelling

Breast cancer self check

Your breasts may feel swollen and tender. | iStock.com/Tharakorn

Another possible warning sign is swelling in the breasts but also swelling around the collarbone area, or under the armpits.

Next: Your nipples may change too.

3. Nipple discharge

Sad and worried entrepreneur working on line with a laptop

Try to avoid Googling this side effect. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Fluid that comes from the nipple may be a sign of breast cancer, according to Healthline. Discharge may be clear, but also possibly yellow, resemble pus or bloody.

Next: Energy levels may change.

4. Fatigue

tired beautiful woman on dark background

Do you feel constantly exhausted? | iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov

As with many cancers, breast cancer, especially if it is advanced, may make you feel fatigued and tired, Healthline reports. Exhaustion can also occur both during and after treatment.

Next: You may lose sleep too.

5. Sleep loss

Young girl tired and lying on the bed

You may not be able to sleep. | Tommaso79/iStock/Getty Images

Advanced breast cancer may interfere with sleep patterns, according to Healthline. Both fatigue and sleep problems are two frequent side effects experienced by patients, a study in The Oncologist reports. This may include, “difficulty falling asleep, problems maintaining sleep, poor sleep efficiency, early awakening, and excessive daytime sleepiness.”

Next: These changes may result from surgery.

6. Changes to your breast(s) due to surgery

Close-up of surgeons hands holding surgical scissors and passing surgical equipment , motion blur background.

Many women have to get a partial mastectomy to conserve the breast.| iStock.com/xmee

Surgery is often performed to remove the cancer, according to The American Cancer Society. Some women may have breast-conserving surgery, where only a portion of the breast containing cancer is removed. In other cases, a total or partial mastectomy where the entire breast or breasts are removed.

Next: Women may experience complications resulting from this surgery.

7. Reconstruction pain

blond girl complaining with tears and hands hiding her face

Try not to think about it too much. | iStock.com/STUDIOGRANDOUEST

Women who have a partial or total mastectomy may opt for reconstruction immediately following their breast cancer surgery. Tissue expanders are placed in the breast area designed to stretch the skin to accommodate an implant, according to Breast Cancer.org. The stretching process is done over a few months where the physician injects saline into the expander. This may be an uncomfortable or sometimes painful process, but the pain subsides by the next day.

Next: Post surgical infection and complication is another concern.

8. Complications from breast cancer surgery

Worried and sad student

There can be side effects even after a successful operation. | Antonio Guillem/iStock/ Getty Images Plus

Any surgery comes with risk but if you have breast cancer surgery you are open to possibility losing sensation in the breast or nipple, tissue death, changes in the arm near the surgery site, and uneven breasts, according to The American Cancer Society. If you receive a breast implant you may also experience capsular contracture, which is scarring around the implant.

Next: This treatment is no walk in the park.

9. Scarring from radiation

Man Receiving Radiation Therapy for Cancer Treatment

Radiation is something you should keep in mind. | Jovanmandic/Getty Images

Breast cancer radiation treatment may cause skin to thin, change, or become discolored, according to Living Beyond Breast Cancer. Radiation may also cause skin dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling too, Cancer.net reports.

Next: Radiation may also cause this to happen.

10. Discomfort from radiation

Male patient wearing a facial mask undergoing radiation

Radiation of any kind can be painful. | stanley45/Getty Images

One women describes the process of receiving radiation for breast cancer in Good Housekeeping: “Try this: Lay on the floor. Stack a baseball bat and hockey stick below your back but above your butt. Make sure the room temperature is about 50 degrees. Take off your shirt or pull one arm out of a robe, and put your arms above your head. Have someone place a little box in the middle of your body just below your breasts. If it itches, too bad. Don’t move. Your life relies on it.”

Next: Weight may change depending upon your treatment.

11.Weight gain or loss from treatment

young healthy girl on home scales

You may notice the scale raise or dip over time. | Ensuria/Getty Images

Certain breast cancer medications may cause you to gain or lose weight, Breast Cancer.org reports. Weight gain or loss may come from anxiety or depression too.

Next: This is one of the toughest side effects for women.

12. Hair loss

Hair may thin or fall out completely. | Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

Chemotherapy, but also radiation, hormonal therapy, and targeted therapy may cause hair loss. Your hair may completely fall out, change color, or thin during the process. While losing your hair may be traumatic, hair typically regrows within three to six months after treatment ends.

Next: During treatment you are susceptible to germs.

13. Infection

Sick woman cough in ved under blanket

You’ll want to stay healthy to avoid infection. | iStock.com/samotrebizan

Just about all breast cancer treatments may increase infection risk, according to Breast Cancer.org. Signs of infection may include swelling, redness, or pus at the surgical site. Also, fever of 100.5 or greater, sore throat, chills, and a cough or shortness of breath are signs.

Next: Check for this adverse reaction from treatment.

14. Bleeding risk

painful neck

A cut could be more dangerous on certain medications. | Vonschonertagen/iStock/Getty Images

A number of breast cancer medications may raise your risk for bleeding. They include capecitabine, carboplatin, cyclophosphamide, gemcitabine, lapatinib, vinorelbine, and tamoxifen. One serious side effect of raloxifene is a blood clot in the legs or lungs.

Next: In some cases this will occur.

15. Early menopause

Woman Smirking

You may experience early menopause after battling breast cancer. | Brians101/iStock/Getty Images

One side effect from some breast cancer treatments may be early menopause in younger women, according to a study published in The Journal of Thoracic Disease. Unfortunately this means the loss of fertility and associated menopause symptoms like night sweats, hot flashes, and weight gain.

Next: Some women experience this after diagnosis.

16. Depression

African American depressed woman

Keep an eye on your mental health as well. | Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/Getty Images 

Breast cancer treatment may make some women feel depressed, Breast Cancer.org reports. Symptoms include feeling sad, sleep disturbances, loss of energy, and feeling worthless or helpless. Hormonal treatments, chemotherapy or removal of the ovaries may cause depression.

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