Radiation for Breast Cancer: What Are the Side Effects?

Radiation for Breast Cancer: What Are the Side Effects?

Pamela Bandelaria |Apr 1, 2021

Side Effects of Radiation for Breast Cancer

Around 13% of women in the United States will develop an aggressive form of breast cancer. Although this looks alarming, breast cancer can be treated in many ways. Radiation therapy is one of them, but there are side effects of radiation for breast cancer. What is radiation therapy, and is it effective and safe? This article will explain what it is, why it is used to help treat breast cancer, what the most common side effects are, and how you can manage them.

What is Breast Cancer?

Cancer is a disease wherein the cells lose regulations in cell division and continuously replicate. This uncontrolled growth and division of cells form a mass which is known as a tumor. Breast cancer occurs when these abnormal cells are found in the breast. The most common cells affected are the lining of the milk ducts. Usually, a mass is felt in the breast, but invasive breast cancer can spread through the blood or the lymphatic system and be transported throughout the body. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. It is second to lung cancer as the highest cause of cancer-related death among women.

Breast Cancer Symptoms

Changes in how the breasts look and feel are important in identifying breast cancer. These changes could look like this:

  • Breast lump
  • Changes in breast size or shape
  • Breast swelling or pain
  • Dimpling of the skin in or around the breast (resembles an orange peel)
  • Changes in the nipple (inward turning of the nipple, nipple that is dry or flaky, nipple discharge, nipple pain)
  • Lymph nodes that are swollen or painful

Having these symptoms does not automatically point to breast cancer. However, when these are encountered, it is important to see a doctor right away to have them evaluated. Checking for symptoms also does not replace routine screening for breast cancer, especially for high-risk populations.

Treatment for Breast Cancer

There are many options to treat breast cancer, depending on the type and severity of the cancer. As some forms of breast cancer are very aggressive and invasive, treatment usually consists of combining different treatment options. These include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and hormonal therapy. It all depends on the stage and invasiveness of the cancer. For some forms, conservative surgery may be done first, followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy or hormonal therapy.

What is Radiation?

Radiation is energy produced and released from electromagnetic waves or subatomic particles. Radiation therapy works by preventing cancer cells from dividing and multiplying. It exposes cells to high-energy rays, which can either directly kill the cells or result in genetic changes that can cause cell death.

Radiation therapy for breast cancer is done in various areas. Radiation can be performed in the breast, chest, underarm area, and above or below the collarbone. It is regularly done in short courses for over 3 to 4 weeks or sometimes longer. It is also usually done along with hormonal therapy.

Why is Radiation Used to Help Treat Breast Cancer?

Radiation therapy is an important addition to the treatment of breast cancer. After surgery, it decreases the rate of cancer recurrence, the chance of complications and death, and improves patients' chances of survival. It is also a good treatment option as breast-conserving therapy. After conservative surgery, which can still preserve the breast, radiation therapy helps with local control of spread.

What Are the Most Common Side Effects of Radiation?

Radiation therapy is beneficial to patients with breast cancer. It is non-invasive and preserves the structure of the breast. However, every treatment has its side effects. Side effects of radiation vary, and some may be immediately evident while others take time to manifest. It is important to know about the side effects to be able to make an informed decision before therapy.

Some side effects may be immediately noticeable weeks after starting treatment. These include breast pain or discomfort. It can become itchy, red, and peel like it was sunburnt. Another side effect is fatigue, feeling weak or tired, and lacking energy. This usually begins after radiation treatment and can last for months after the treatment ends. Fatigue can also lead to sleeping problems such as insomnia.

More long-term side effects include discoloration of the breast and changes in the size of the breast, becoming smaller over time. Swelling of the breast, back, or chest area can also occur due to the accumulation of fluid in the arms. This condition is called lymphedema and occurs if radiation therapy includes the lymph nodes in the underarm area or above the collarbone.

How to Manage the Side Effects of Radiation

Despite radiation therapy having side effects, there are ways by which we can alleviate them. Some are simple remedies, while others may need the evaluation and help of a doctor. For breast soreness or pain, common pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be helpful. If the breast becomes red, itchy, or beings peeling, some creams can be used for relief.

Exercising and getting enough sleep can help combat fatigue. Short, simple exercises such as walking for 20 to 30 minutes per day can help alleviate this side effect. If fatigue or sleeping problems persist or lymphedema is evident, a doctor can help manage them.

Breast cancer is a very challenging illness, but we have many treatment options for people with it. Remember, no treatment is without side effects. It is crucial to be aware of these treatment options and their side effects to give the best management for every person.

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Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Staff Writer | April 1, 2021

Awareness Saves Lives Lung cancer occurs when cancerous cells form in the lungs. Like other cancers, as the disease develops, tumors are formed. As the disease progresses, it has the potential to spread to other regions of the body. Lung cancer is an umbrella term referring to several different cancers in the lung, including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). NSCLCs start in lung tissue. It is comprised of three specific diseases: adenocarcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and large cell carcinomas. SCLCs are a rarer form, originating in the bronchi. They are similar in symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and risk factors. SCLCs tend to be more aggressive than NSCLCs. When cancer is more “aggressive”, it means that the growth of the cancer cells is more rapid. Rapid progression of cancer means that tumors grow faster and spread to other parts of the body more quickly, meaning the time window for “effective” treatment is smaller and the prognosis is poorer than non-aggressive cancers. Getting a Diagnosis Anyone can get lung cancer. This is no population of people that have absolute immunity from the disease. That being said, certain groups of people are more likely to contract lung cancer than others. [youmaylike] Generally, lung cancer is found in older people over the age of 65. Some lifestyle choices, such as smoking tobacco, can increase the risk of getting a diagnosis. Remember, just are there are no populations that are immune to developing cancer, but there are plenty of “at-risk” individuals who will never develop it. This does not mean you should ignore warnings over certain activities, such as smoking, just because you can think of someone who was an exception to the rule. Early Signs of Lung Cancer When it comes to cancer, one of the most important things you can do is get an early diagnosis. Early detection will put you in a better position in terms of treatment. Catching the disease before it gets the chance to travel to other parts of the body will make it easier to treat. If it does not spread, physicians can concentrate treatment techniques on specific areas, which can drastically increase your chances of beating it. The main problem that makes cancer so deadly is that you often do not notice until it is too late. Oftentimes, the early signs of disease are easy to overlook. Unfortunately, lung cancer normally does not cause any noticeable symptoms until later on. If you are demographically vulnerable to developing lung cancer, consider paying special attention to these early warning signs: Chronic cough, with no apparent cause. Coughing up blood; you may notice spotting on tissues. Chest, back, or shoulder pain, especially when you take deep breaths or laugh. Inappropriate shortness of breath, which may happen when doing non-strenuous, daily activities that should not cause any breathing problems. Weight and appetite loss, with no apparent cause. Fatigue or feelings of weakness with no known cause. Hoarseness, or having a raspy voice, can be a sign of respiratory problems. Wheezing, even during regular breathing. Chronic bronchitis or pneumonia. Any persistent respiratory infection should be brought to the attention of your physician. As lung cancer advances, the severity of symptoms will worsen for most patients. Advanced Symptoms of Lung Cancer In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, other signs of cancer may manifest after the disease has had time to progress. These symptoms will arise in response to the fact that the disease has entered other parts of the body. How you experience these symptoms will depend heavily on where the cancer spreads to. Bone pain: Can occur anywhere in the body but likely in the hip or the back. Jaundice: The yellowing of skin and eyes is a sign the liver has been disrupted by something. Disturbances to the nervous system: When cancer spreads to the brain, it can cause many different symptoms. These symptoms can include things such as persistent headaches, fatigue, numbness, lightheadedness, seizures, and sudden problems with balancing. When to See a Doctor You should always discuss any major changes in your bodily functions with your doctor. It is impossible to know whether or not something is cancerous until you undergo a medical examination. More than likely, these symptoms are not cancer. This does not mean that you should ignore them. Even if a collection of symptoms is not cancer, it can be a sign of another medical condition. As early intervention is essential for dealing with any cancer, it is important to talk to your doctor as soon as you notice these problems when they become persistent and occur with no explanation.

Planning on Getting Botox? Here’s What to Know

Staff Writer | April 1, 2021

Before the Needle Although many people have heard about Botox, few people know what it actually is. So, what are Botox injections? Many people would be surprised to learn that it actually is a drug derived from a neurotoxin created by a specific bacterium, the Clostridium botulinum. This is the same toxin that causes botulism, a life-threatening form of food poisoning. When ingested in its natural form, Botox can cause paralysis that spreads through the body until it eventually works its way to the breathing muscles, causing respiratory failure. This is why it is important to educate yourself before considering Botox injections. Why Do People Get Botox? Although this is a toxin, it is safe to use in small doses for medical use. Doctors often use the substance cosmetically. It is probably best known as an anti-wrinkle agent used to treat fine lines and signs of aging. Most commonly, it is used to treat wrinkles in the neck or face. Some people also get Botox injections to minimize their forehead lines. [youmaylike] In addition to smoothing skin to give it a more youthful appearance, it serves other medical purposes. Some patients use it to treat severe underarm sweating, migraines, uncontrollable blinking, overactive bladder and strabismus (misaligned eyes). How Does Botox Work? Botox causes paralysis. While this can be fatal in large, targeted doses, it is the property that helps with treatment. It acts locally, upon the injection site where it will weaken or paralyze targeted muscles. This is done as the neurotoxin attaches to nerve ending and blocks impulses from coming through. Instead of contracting as normal, the injected tissues will remain relatively frozen. Reducing the pulling of the skin is what makes the skin look more youthful. This signal-blocking property is also assisted with the other medical applications of Botox. It is important to realize that these are not the same as a filler. How Long Does Botox Last? The effects of Botox do not last forever. After a while, the signals will begin to pass through again. Procedures are expected to have a visual effect that lasts three to six months. Botox will not lose its effect overnight. Rather, you will experience a gradual decline in results as the muscles slowly regain their movement. The effects of your first session will wear off faster than the later sessions. Your first session is expected to last around three months where the later sessions will gradually last up to six months. Is Botox Safe? Under controlled medical environments, Botox injection procedures are considered low-risk. Most procedures are carried out safely and effectively with little side effects. The side effects one does experience are normally what is expected from any sort of injection procedure. This would be some temporary redness, bleeding or bruising at the injection site. In rare cases, one may experience a headache in the first two days after the procedure or temporary drooping. With this being said, there are certain situations where you should avoid getting Botox injections. You should not undergo treatments if you: Are 65 years of age or older, or under 18 years old. Have breathing problems. Have bleeding problems. Are allergic to or have sensitivities to Botox products. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any medications or supplements you are currently taking as there may be some interactions that could be dangerous. If you immediately experience signs of an allergic reaction upon the treatment, seek medical help immediately. To reduce any of the potential complications, it is important that you thoroughly research the performing physician. You need to make sure you are going to someone who knows what they are doing and has an adequate environment to perform hygienically and legally. It is not worth the risk to seek other methods. Does Botox Hurt? Botox procedures use very tiny needles. While injections are associated with some pain, the size of the needles keeps this pain at a minimum. Botox injections are generally preceded by some sort of anesthetic treatment to numb the pain. This is often done with a topical anesthetic cream or a cold pack. Most people report minimal to no pain at all. The Cost of Botox The cost of Botox will vary greatly depending on the specifications of your procedure. Some facilities will charge you by the area covered, but more often they charge you per unit of Botox used. On average, you will pay about $20 per unit. As the average treatment is about 20 to 60 units on average, you will likely pay between $500 and $800. The number of units used in a session will vary greatly depending on the space that you want to be covered. The bigger the area, the more units you will need to pay to achieve results. When it comes to cosmetic procedures, insurance will likely not pay for any of the costs. You can talk with your insurance provider to find out if they offer financial compensation for non-cosmetic procedures.

The Top 10 Vitamins and Supplements for Women During Menopause

Danielle Kemp | April 1, 2021

Helping With This Natural Phase for Older Women Menopause is a natural phase in a woman’s life and marks the end of her reproductive years. While it brings significant hormonal changes, it doesn’t have to be a time of discomfort or distress. By incorporating specific vitamins and supplements into their daily routine, women can manage the uncomfortable symptoms that come with menopause. Read on as we discuss the 10 best vitamins and supplements that can support women during this transitional phase. 1. Calcium and Vitamin D During menopause, there is a natural decrease in estrogen levels. This can lead to bone loss and increase the risk of osteoporosis. Calcium and vitamin D are crucial for maintaining good bone health. Calcium supports the formation and maintenance of strong bones, while vitamin D aids in calcium absorption. Dietary sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy greens and fortified foods. Vitamin D can be obtained through sunlight exposure and fortified foods, but supplements may be necessary to meet the recommended daily intake. 2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for overall health, especially during menopause. They have been shown to reduce inflammation, support heart health and improve mood. Additionally, they can alleviate menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and joint pain. Fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon and sardines, is an excellent source of omega-3s. Fish oil supplements are available that can help ensure optimal intake of these fatty acids. 3. B Vitamins B vitamins, including B6, B9 (folate) and B12, are crucial in maintaining energy levels and supporting emotional well-being. They can help combat fatigue, mood swings and memory lapses commonly experienced during menopause. Foods rich in B vitamins include whole grains, legumes, leafy greens, eggs and fortified cereals. Taking a B-complex supplement is also a good way of ensuring adequate intake. 4. Magnesium Magnesium is an essential mineral that supports many biochemical reactions in the body. During menopause, magnesium can alleviate mood swings, reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality. It has also been shown to aid in maintaining bone density and muscle function. Dietary sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and leafy greens. Women who are concerned about a lack of magnesium in their diet can also take supplements to ensure optimal intake. 5. Black Cohosh This herbal supplement has been traditionally used to manage menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats and sleep disturbances. It is believed to mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. While research results are mixed, many women find relief while taking black cohosh. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any herbal supplement, as it may interact with certain medications or have side effects. [youmaylike] 6. Soy Isoflavones These plant compounds have a similar structure to estrogen. They are known as phytoestrogens and can help alleviate menopausal symptoms. Products such as tofu, soy milk and tempeh are rich sources of isoflavones, but there are also supplements available. 7. Vitamin E Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can help alleviate menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flashes and vaginal dryness. It works by reducing oxidative stress in the body. Good dietary sources of vitamin E include nuts, seeds, spinach and broccoli. There are also supplements available if you are concerned about achieving adequate intake. 8. Probiotics Menopause can sometimes disrupt the balance of gut flora, leading to digestive issues and a weakened immune system. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support digestive health and immune function. They help to alleviate bloating, gas and constipation and are available in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi. 9. Evening Primrose Oil Evening primrose oil is derived from the seeds of the evening primrose plant. These seeds are rich in gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), which is an omega-6 fatty acid, and have been found to reduce hot flashes, improve skin elasticity and relieve breast pain associated with menopause. Evening primrose oil is available in capsule form and should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional. 10. Ginseng Ginseng, particularly the Panax ginseng variety, has been used in traditional medicine to alleviate menopausal symptoms. It may help reduce fatigue, improve cognitive function and enhance overall well-being. It is available as a supplement and should be used with caution as it can interact with certain medications and cause side effects in some individuals. Final Notes It's important to note that while vitamins and supplements can be beneficial during menopause, they should not replace a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. It's always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplements, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications. Incorporating essential vitamins and supplements into their daily routines can provide much-needed support for women during menopause. By understanding their unique needs and consulting with healthcare professionals, women can navigate this transformative stage with greater comfort and vitality.