Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Managing Side Effects

Women with triple-negative breast cancer may worry about the side effects of their treatment. Medication and simple lifestyle changes may help prevent or manage these side effects. Each woman responds to treatment differently, so you may not experience all these side effects. Tell your doctor about your side effects so he or she can recommend a remedy. Side effects differ according to the type of treatment you receive. Knowing which side effects to anticipate and how to manage them prepares you as you begin treatment.

Cognitive dysfunction ("Chemo Brain")

Many women who receive chemotherapy for triple-negative breast cancer have trouble remembering words or directions, or concentrating, and may experience memory lapses in the middle of tasks. This can leave you feeling like you are in a mental fog. These memory and thinking problems are collectively referred to as chemo brain. The science behind this is still not well-developed, but many of the side effects of chemotherapy improve or resolve over time.

Try keeping a record of the problems you have and when they happen, and tell your health care team about them.

Fatigue

Everyone knows what exhaustion feels like, but the fatigue caused by cancer and its treatment is different. It’s stronger and often lasts longer, even with enough sleep. Fatigue often occurs with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Hair loss (Alopecia)

Hair loss can be one of the most emotionally difficult side effects of treatment for triple-negative breast cancer. You may lose your eyebrows, eyelashes and other body hair in addition to the hair on your head. Chemotherapy can cause hair loss, and radiation therapy may cause hair loss in the treated area.

Lymphedema

Your lymphatic system carries white blood cells throughout the body to help fight infections. When lymph nodes are removed as part of your treatment, the lymphatic fluid can build up. This can cause swelling in the area where the lymph nodes were removed, most often in an arm or leg. Patients with breast cancers typically experience lymphedema immediately after surgery or radiation therapy. However, it can also become an issue months or even years after treatment ends.

Nausea and vomiting

Nausea is feeling sick to your stomach and may come with an urge to vomit. Nausea and vomiting are most often caused by chemotherapy but can be caused by other treatments too. Your doctor may be able to prescribe medicines to prevent or reduce nausea before or during your treatment.

Neuropathy

Neuropathy is pain or discomfort caused by damage to the nerves that control movement and feeling in the arms and legs. Symptoms of neuropathy are numbness, pain, burning, tingling or loss of feeling in the hands or feet. If you have these symptoms, keep a journal of when they happen, what they are, how long they last and how intense they are and share this information with your health care team. Chemotherapy can cause neuropathy, but not everyone who receives chemotherapy will experience neuropathy.

If your treatment causes neuropathy, your doctor may switch to a different chemotherapy drug or change how your chemotherapy is given. He or she may also prescribe pain medicines, steroids or numbing creams or lotions.

 

Tips for Managing Side Effects

During treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, simple changes may help you prevent or manage some of the most common side effects.

Cognitive dysfunction (“chemo brain”)

  • Use a daily planner or calendar to keep track of “to do” lists and events.
  • Focus on the task at hand. It’s okay not to multitask.
  • Organize your home and work spaces and keep important items, such as keys, in a specific place.
  • Tell your friends and family you’re having trouble so they can help you remember important information.

Fatigue

  • Accept help from others who want to help lighten your load.
  • Regular moderate exercise, especially walking, decreases fatigue so try to stay active.
  • Nap when you can, but not too much. Try to keep naps to about 30 minutes and get eight hours of sleep per night when possible. Set a routine for sleeping and waking.
  • Conserve energy by setting priorities and planning to do the most important things when you have the most energy.

Hair loss (alopecia)

  • If you choose to use a wig, buy it before treatment begins to help you match it to your own hair. Also consider turbans, scarves and hats.
  • Your health insurance may cover wigs. If so, ask your doctor to use “cranial prosthesis” on the prescription rather than “wig.”
  • Use a mild shampoo and a soft brush or wide-toothed comb and avoid using elastic hair bands, which can cause breakage.
  • Sleep on a satin pillowcase.
  • Ask your doctor if using a cooling cap during treatment would be appropriate for you.

Lymphedema

  • Use a compression garment or tight bandages to apply pressure to the area.
  • Elevate the swollen limb to encourage drainage of the lymphatic system.
  • Talk to your doctor about manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), a gentle skin massage that helps drain lymphatic fluid into the bloodstream, reducing swelling.
  • Also ask about complete decongestive therapy (CDT), which combines manual massage with skin care, exercise and compression.

Nausea and vomiting

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
  • Eat at the times of day you feel best.
  • Avoid spicy, citric and fatty food. Bland foods, such as bananas and crackers, are easier to digest.
  • Foods and drinks that include ginger, such as ginger ale or ginger tea, can be soothing. Peppermint can also relieve nausea.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

Neuropathy

  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes and wear comfortable shoes.
  • Keep your hands and feet warm.
  • Avoid standing or walking for long amounts of time.

 

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