Chemotherapy and radiation are two of the usual treatments for breast and uterine cancer after surgery. I have a good friend who has gone through both the surgery and treatment with Tamoxifen, then Femera. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in the right breast duct. It has been two years since her last chemo treatment and she still has side effects from her ordeal. She was informed about side effects during the treatments but was told that those side effects would end once the treatments ended. She was not informed that she might experience them for many months afterward.
Chemotherapy and radiation kill both cancer cells and healthy cells. New chemotherapy and radiation treatments have improved in recent years. They have cut the dosage on some to reduce damage. They now can target the treatment to a specific organ or area in some cases, which reduces the damage to other areas of the body that are healthy.
Even though treatments have improved, there are still long term health problems that continue after the treatments end. Some of these long term effects may be as deadly, as the cancer that was being originally treated. I researched woman’s cancer patient input on several large forum sites. The following long term effects listed below were being experienced by many female cancer patients for months and years after the treatments stop. My friend still has fatigue, weakness, bone pain, and brain fog two years later. These side effects are listed on cancer information sites. Many of these official chemo sites say that long term effects are uncommon, but that is not borne out by other more independent research sites and input on forums.
How long does chemotherapy impact the individual after stopping treatment? The effects can last from months to years afterward. In some cases you may be left with permanent damage that leads to death such as liver, heart, or kidney failure.
Fatigue and Loss of Stamina: These symptoms are common lasting for months and years afterward in some patients.
‘Chemobrain’ or ‘chemofog’: A common long-term side effect that one in five cancer patients experience. Symptoms include: inability to concentrate; speech problems; recall problems; problems in communication; overall memory problems; and inability to multitask as before the treatments. Women receiving chemotherapy during the menopause years experience more of these problems. In some chemotherapy treatments, women are put into instant menopause. Researchers have not figured out why it happens, who is more at risk for these kinds of problems, and how to reduce this risk. One to three years is the reported effect of these side effects after treatment ends.
Chemotherapy or cranial radiation treatment can affect the long term IQ of children. This has been proven by a number of studies. It has also been shown to cause leuko-encephalopathy, secondary malignancies, and dysfunction and growth of the endocrine system.
Nervous System Problems: Nervous System abnormalities including stiff neck; headaches; vision problems; increased sensitivity to smells; ringing in your ears; decreased sensation and numbness in the extremities; and tingling; and pain. Vinca alkaloid chemotherapy drugs such as Vincristine or Vinblastine have a higher risk for permanent nerve damage.
Thyroid Problems: Radiotherapy to the neck area can cause damage to the thyroid gland. You many experience fatigue and weakness for years to come. Treatment with thyroid hormones in some cases may help. Thyroid weakness may cause weight gain, immunity problems, and hormonal problems. The thyroid affects every function of the body. This is a fairly common problem with chemotherapy.
Decreased Immune Function: Many people report that they get sick easier and recover less quickly than they did before chemotherapy and radiation treatments
Bone Pain, Joint Pain, Bone Fractures, Osteoporosis:
Chemotherapy agents like Femera for breast cancer cause severe to debilitating bone and joint pain throughout the whole body. In some cases, this improves with treatment time but in some cases it does not. Some women report this same pain continues even after the treatments have stopped. In some cases, it can go on for several years. In some cases, women did not feel their quality of life left after treatment was worth the benefits.
Both radiotherapy and chemotherapy affect fertility in both men and women. Couples bank their sperm or eggs to be used later after they decide whether or not to have children.
Hormonal Disturbances: menstrual abnormalities; early menopause;
Weakness to Develop Other Cancers:
Leukemia is one the cancers that reappears years later in cancer survivors. This is a risk factor linked to chemotherapy drugs like cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and epirubicin. The risk depends of the dosage and length of time given.
Endometrial Cancer: Patients treated for breast cancer with Tamoxifen are at high risk to develop uterine cancer or endometrial cancer.
Chemotherapy can also develop into other types of cancer including Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia and some other tumors.
Organ Damage: It depends on the drug given, the number of treatments given, the area being treated and other factors.
Ear Damage: tinnitus; hearing loss; ringing of the ears; and damage to the outer hairs of the cochlea. Cisplatin is one of the chemo agents associated with hearing problems.
Heart: pericarditis myocarditis syndrome; cardiomyopathy; congestive heart failure; heart failure of several different kinds. This side effect is especially linked to chemo drugs, doxorubicin, epirubicin, and trastuumab. The risk depends on the chemotherapy agent and dosage. Both chemotherapy and radiotherapy to the chest can leave permanent heart damage.
Liver: Chemotherapy is hard on the liver. Long term damage may develop into cirrhosis; hepatotoxicity; liver disease;
Kidney: Kidney disease, kidney failure, kidney toxicity
Stomach: decreased creatinine clearance; hypomagnesemia; and renal tubular acidosis.
Bladder: hematuria; pyuria; dysuria; urinary incontinence
Lungs: lung disease; pulmonary fibrosis; shortness of breath; cyanoiss, tachypnea, lung wheezing
Benefits to Risk Factor: Many breast and uterine cancer survivors feel that life, even with the long term ill effects, is better than the alternative of death. There is an issue of the quality of life you live afterward, as well, to consider. You will not know what side effects you will experience until after the treatment ends. Many of these side effects are relieved several years down the road. On the other hand, long term side effects such as damage to the heart, kidneys, and liver may lead to death or severe life threatening and debilitating health problems. Only you can look at the information available to decide if the risks are worth the benefits of chemotherapy and radiation. As women, It has to be in the end, your ultimate decision.