HealthDay News — About half of early-stage breast cancer patients experience severe side effects from their treatment, according to a study published online January 24 in Cancer.

Researchers surveyed 1,945 early-stage breast cancer patients an average of seven months after diagnosis. The women were asked to rate the severity of seven common treatment side effects: nausea/vomiting; diarrhea; constipation; pain; arm swelling; shortness of breath; and breast skin irritation. 

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The results showed that 93% of the women had at least one of the side effects. Forty-five percent said their side effects were severe or very severe. Pain, skin irritation, and constipation were the side effects most often reported as severe or very severe. Patients who had both chemotherapy and radiation treatment were 30% more likely to report a severe side effect than those who had only one of those treatments. Severe or very severe pain was twice as likely to be reported by women who had undergone double mastectomy than by those who had a lumpectomy. Hispanic patients were 30% more likely than whites to report a severe or very severe side effect.

While severe side effects might be expected among patients receiving chemotherapy, one-third of patients who didn’t have chemotherapy also reported severe side effects, the researchers said. Most of the patients sought help for their side effects during routine medical appointments. But 9% made an additional appointment and 5% went to an emergency department or hospital. Side effects also led to treatment delays and reduced treatment dosages, the researchers found.

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