Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
About MyBCTeam

Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatments

Updated on April 21, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
Kelly Crumrin

Women undergoing treatment for breast cancer can experience a huge array of side effects. Most women do not experience every possible side effect. Each treatment and combination of treatments can cause different side effects. Which side effects you experience will also depend on your age, any additional health conditions you have, and your overall health. Just like some women have genetic risk factors for breast cancer, your genetic background can raise your risk for some side effects or lower your risk for others.

Some breast cancer treatments carry a higher risk of causing serious side effects than others. For this reason, there are established guidelines for which breast cancer treatments should be tried first and when more aggressive treatments are warranted. Doctors make treatment recommendations based on the type and stage of the breast cancer.

With any breast cancer treatment, the likelihood of serious side effects must be weighed against the risk that the cancer may continue to advance and become life-threatening.

Types of Side Effects From Breast Cancer Treatment

Some side effects are usually temporary, while others may be chronic, or even permanent. To read about the common side effects of a specific medication, surgery, or other type of breast cancer therapy, visit the treatment pages.

Short-Term Side Effects of Breast Cancer Therapy

Many potential side effects of breast cancer treatment are likely to resolve in the weeks or months following the completion of treatment.

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin irritation similar to sunburn with radiation therapy
  • Changes to the skin and nails
  • Increased risk for infection
  • Mouth and throat sores
  • Cognitive problems known as “chemo brain” or “cog fog”
  • Muscle pain

Long-Term and Late Side Effects of Breast Cancer Therapy

Late side effects may not occur until months or years after breast cancer treatments have ended. Others may begin during treatment but persist years after treatment is complete. Some side effects of breast cancer treatment can be permanent.

  • Changes in the way the breast looks and feels
  • Pain or sensitivity in the treated area
  • Neuropathy (numbness) due to nerve damage
  • Early menopause and infertility in younger women
  • Edema (swelling) in the breast
  • Lymphedema (swelling caused by the buildup of lymph fluid) in the arm on the treated side
  • Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) that can lead to fractures
  • Damage to the heart muscle or lungs
  • Challenges with sexuality and intimacy
  • Depression
  • Fear of breast cancer recurrence
  • Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone)
  • Increased risk for developing another type of cancer
  • Weight gain

Condition Guide

Resources

External resources

MyBCTeam resources

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Kelly Crumrin is a senior editor at MyHealthTeam and leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

Related articles

Researchers estimate that 90 percent of people with breast cancer experience fatigue during...

Managing Fatigue and Breast Cancer

Researchers estimate that 90 percent of people with breast cancer experience fatigue during...
Most people occasionally have trouble sleeping. Too much caffeine or alcohol, heartburn, or just...

Insomnia and Breast Cancer

Most people occasionally have trouble sleeping. Too much caffeine or alcohol, heartburn, or just...
One symptom that people living with breast cancer sometimes struggle to talk about is lowered sex...

Low Sex Drive and Breast Cancer

One symptom that people living with breast cancer sometimes struggle to talk about is lowered sex...
Many people with breast cancer experience pain during treatment or in the following months or...

Pain and Breast Cancer: Causes and Management

Many people with breast cancer experience pain during treatment or in the following months or...
Some women go to their doctor after they notice symptoms of breast cancer during or between...

Breast Cancer Symptoms

Some women go to their doctor after they notice symptoms of breast cancer during or between...
Breast cancer treatment can cause unsightly changes to fingernails and toenails. Changes can...

Nail and Skin Changes and Breast Cancer Treatment

Breast cancer treatment can cause unsightly changes to fingernails and toenails. Changes can...

Recent articles

Feelings of stress are common among people living with metastatic breast cancer.Managing stress...

Stress-Reduction Techniques for People Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer

Feelings of stress are common among people living with metastatic breast cancer.Managing stress...
Eating a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, and taking steps to support your...

Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer

Eating a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, and taking steps to support your...
Life following treatment for breast cancer can present new and unexpected challenges, including...

Breast Cancer Survival: Life After Treatment

Life following treatment for breast cancer can present new and unexpected challenges, including...
The most advanced stage of breast cancer is stage 4 breast cancer, also called metastatic breast...

Stage 4 Breast Cancer: Treatment and Prognosis

The most advanced stage of breast cancer is stage 4 breast cancer, also called metastatic breast...
During a breast cancer diagnosis, your doctor will determine the stage of your cancer. Stages...

Navigating Treatments and Prognosis for Stage 3 Breast Cancer

During a breast cancer diagnosis, your doctor will determine the stage of your cancer. Stages...
Cancers, including breast cancer, are divided into stages, based on how far the cancer has...

Stage 2 Breast Cancer: Treatment and Prognosis

Cancers, including breast cancer, are divided into stages, based on how far the cancer has...
MyBCTeam My breast cancer Team

Thank you for signing up.

close