In a recent survey, 93 percent of women said they experienced at least one of seven side effects, which include nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, pain, arm swelling, shortness of breath and breast skin irritation.
Pain, skin irritation and constipation were most frequently severe or very severe, with 45 percent rating it that way. The survey also asked patients what kind of help they sought for their side effects - from discussing it at a routine visit to scheduling additional appointments or seeking emergency care. These numbers are far higher than shown in clinical trials and cancer registries.
The results were drawn from a diverse group of 1,945 women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Women were surveyed an average of seven months after diagnosis and asked to rate the severity of the seven common side effects of breast cancer treatment. Most patients sought help for side effects during routine doctor's appointments, but 9 percent scheduled an additional appointment and 5 percent went to an emergency department or hospital.
Women who had both chemotherapy and radiation treatment were 30 percent more likely to report a severe side effect, compared to women who had only one of those treatments. Women who had double mastectomy were twice as likely as those who had lumpectomy to report severe or very severe pain. Severe side effects were also more common to Latina women, who were 30 percent more likely than white women to report a severe or very severe side effect.