Thanks to treatment advancements, more women than ever survive breast cancer. When breast cancer is diagnosed early, the five-year survival rate is more than 90 percent. With the proper follow-up care and personalized attention, you can live a healthy life after breast cancer treatment.
At Sylvester, we’re experts in treating all types of breast cancer. We’re always here to support you and your health. After treatment is complete, you’ll attend regular follow-up appointments for physical exams and imaging. These appointments, part of your survivorship care, also offer an opportunity to ask your care team about any symptoms or concerns.
We’re here to help you manage treatment side effects, improve your quality of life, and lower your risk for cancer recurrence. We offer expert guidance and support to enhance your health and well-being, including healthy eating and exercise advice.
Managing breast cancer surgery side effects
Breast and lymph node surgeries are a standard part of breast cancer treatment. You may experience some side effects after surgery, including:
- Lymphedema (fluid buildup in your arm)
- Post-mastectomy pain syndrome (pain where you had surgery)
- Shoulder stiffness and limited range of motion
Your doctor will check you for side effects during your follow-up appointments and recommend ways to relieve symptoms and help you feel your best.
Lower your lymphedema risk
You’re at greater risk of developing lymphedema if your lymph nodes are removed during breast cancer surgery – the more nodes you have removed, the greater your risk. Your risk is also higher if you receive radiation therapy to the lymph nodes under your arm, you have an infection in your arm, or you’re overweight.
To lower your risk of lymphedema, avoid anything that could stress your arm. Even minor injuries, like bug bites or a splinter, could trigger lymphedema. Unfortunately, lymphedema can’t be prevented entirely, but you can lower your risk with these approaches:
- Elevate your arm for a few days after surgery
- Don’t have your blood pressure checked or give blood from the arm where lymph nodes were removed
- Avoid saunas, hot tubs, or other heat sources on your arm
- Avoid tight clothing around your arm and underarm
- Ease into arm movement and exercise gradually
- Use sunscreen to protect from sunburn and bug spray to prevent bug bites
- Wear a compression sleeve when you fly or do rigorous activity
- Wear gloves when gardening
- If you’re overweight, talk to your care team about losing weight through diet and exercise
What are the treatments for lymphedema?
There’s no cure for lymphedema, but physical therapy can help you manage lymphedema symptoms and make you more comfortable. Your physical therapist will develop a treatment plan that lets lymph fluid drain better, using methods such as:
- Compression sleeves or bandaging to reduce swelling
- Massage and instructions for using massage techniques you can do at home
- Arm strengthening exercises
- Compression machines to reduce swelling when other approaches aren’t successful
If physical therapy approaches don’t relieve symptoms, your doctor may recommend lymphedema surgery.
Post-mastectomy pain syndrome (PMPS) prevention
PMPS, also called dysesthesia, can cause pain in your surgical scar, chest, back, neck, or shoulder. Rarely, it may happen after a lumpectomy.
Your doctor can treat PMPS with a comprehensive approach, including giving you guidelines for chest and shoulder movement after surgery. If pain affects your daily activities, your doctor may recommend pain medicine, physical therapy, or both. Physical therapy can improve your range of motion and strengthen your chest to let you perform everyday activities comfortably. Your doctor will also educate you about lifestyle and activity changes to relieve symptoms and prevent them from flaring up.
Managing hormone therapy side effects
If you have hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer that uses hormones like estrogen to grow, you may receive hormone therapy as part of your treatment. Hormone therapy prevents cancer cells from accessing hormones.
Hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers are the most common cancers, so hormone therapy is often part of treatment. You may need to take daily pills for five to 10 years after treatment, depending on the type of cancer. Your oncologist will let you know if hormone therapy is right for you.
Hormone therapy may cause side effects, depending on the type of therapy. You can lower your risk of side effects with healthy eating and exercise, which also boost the effectiveness of hormone therapy. Additionally, acupuncture can reduce side effects.
Selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM)
A common type of hormone therapy is a medicine called a selective estrogen receptor modulator, such as tamoxifen. This therapy blocks estrogen receptors in breast cells, but it acts like estrogen in other areas like the uterus and bones. It’s often prescribed for pre-menopausal women, but it can cause similar side effects of menopause, including:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Hair thinning
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Reduced sex drive
- Skin and vaginal dryness
Aromatase inhibitors, another type of hormone therapy, are often used to treat postmenopausal women. This therapy prevents your body from making estrogen, but it can cause joint pain and bone density loss.
We help you manage all types of hormone therapy side effects – whether it’s using physical therapy approaches or recommending lubricants for vaginal dryness, strategies to improve sleep, or supplements to support bone health. Though side effects can be uncomfortable, hormone therapy benefits far outweigh the risks.