Breast cancer survivorship: Life after treatment (w/VIDEO)

October 10, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So

Thanks to better screening and therapies, more women than ever are living — and thriving — after a breast cancer diagnosis. Although being cured may seem to be the end goal of treatment, for many women it's only the beginning of a lifelong journey.

"There is a growing group of patients who are surviving their breast cancers and getting on with the rest of their lives ... but many survivors may experience symptoms and issues as a result of their treatment," said Lily Lai, M.D., associate clinical professor and physician at City of Hope's Department of Surgery.

These symptoms vary widely depending on the treatments received, Lai said. In the video above, she does highlight some common side effects, including:

  • Lymphedema, swelling of the arm that can limit movement and cause pain, due to lymph node removal during surgery
  • "Chemo brain," deficits in memory, attention or cognition, that may be caused by chemotherapy treatments
  • Nausea, fatigue and depression, which can be associated with any breast cancer treatment

The good news is that many of these symptoms are manageable, Lai said. For example, lymphedema can be mitigated by wearing compression sleeves; several drugs can treat depression and fatigue.


And with the number of survivors growing, Lai said, research in this field is expanding, too, particularly about specific treatments' potential side effects and complementary therapies that can address some of these symptoms.

Among the current studies are those assessing yoga's ability to reduce fatigue and acupuncture to treat nausea and chronic pain, Lai said. Although those therapies are still being studied for their efficacy, Lai does urge survivors to exercise.

"There's a growing body of literature that suggests maintaining a normal weight and increasing your physical activity can both help not only managing symptoms ... but can actually decrease the risk of recurrence of breast cancer and dying of breast cancer," Lai said.

And that's a benefit that any cancer survivor can support.

Join our breast cancer TweetChat on Tuesday, Oct. 15, noon to 1 p.m. PT.

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