Heart Problems and High Blood Pressure Associated with Breast Cancer – Side Effects

Extracted from breastcancer.org

If you’re having heart problems you may feel that your heart is beating irregularly, very fast, or forcefully in your chest. You may have chest pains or experience a heart attack.

Symptoms of heart problems include:

  • breathing problems
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • coughing
  • swelling of feet and lower legs
  • feeling weak or dizzy
  • fatigue

Many things can cause heart problems, including stress, being overweight, and smoking. Several breast cancer treatments may cause heart problems:

Avoiding heart problems

If you have chest pain or trouble breathing, talk to your doctor right away. Since heart problems can be caused by so many things, it’s important to figure out exactly what’s happening. Your doctor may test your heart before you start treatment for breast cancer and several times while you’re having treatment. If you do happen to have any treatment-related problems, your heart will probably regain its strength and full function after treatment ends.

Other tips to keep your heart as healthy during treatment:

  • Manage high blood pressure, if you’ve been diagnosed with it.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress, and keep your heart (a muscle) fit.
  • Use relaxation techniques such as meditation and visualization to help reduce your stress levels.
  • Manage your cholesterol levels. Lower your “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins) and raise your “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins).
  • Eat a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Reduce the amount of fatty meat and sugar you eat.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, your heart has to work harder. Excess weight also raises your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, all of which can harm your heart.

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Your blood pressure is the force of your blood against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps. Every time your heart beats (this is the heart contracting), it pumps blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats and lowest when the heart rests between beats. Blood pressure readings use two numbers, read one over the other. The top number (systolic pressure) measures blood pressure when the heart beats. The bottom number (diastolic pressure) measures blood pressure in between heartbeats. A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 or slightly lower. If you have a blood pressure reading of 140/90 or higher, you’re considered to have high blood pressure (also known as hypertension).

High blood pressure usually doesn’t have any symptoms, so you may not realize you have it.

Several breast cancer treatments can cause high blood pressure:

Some pain medicines you may be taking during breast cancer treatment also can cause high blood pressure.

Managing high blood pressure

High blood pressure increases your risk of heart problems, stroke, and kidney problems. If you have chest pains, a severe headache, nausea, dizziness, or lose your sight, call your doctor immediately


Is Heartburn Troubling you?

Heartburn, also known as gastric reflux or indigestion, happens after you eat and food is in your stomach. In the stomach, food is broken down by acids. Usually these acids stay in your stomach because a valve blocks the acids from going up the esophagus. Sometimes this valve doesn’t work properly because the muscle weakens. When this happens, gastric acids can travel up the esophagus and cause a burning sensation — this is heartburn. When these acids travel up into the mouth and then down into the lungs, they can cause gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Symptoms of heartburn and GERD include:

  • irritating burning sensation in the chest or throat
  • middle back pain
  • coughing spells
  • bitter, acidic taste in the mouth
  • an increase in the burning sensation while lying down

Breast cancer treatments that can cause heartburn and GERD are:

Bisphosphonates, medicines that are used to protect bones during breast cancer treatment, also may cause heartburn and GERD.

Heartburn also can be caused by some pain medications you may be taking during breast cancer treatment, including NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen (one brand name: Advil).

Managing heartburn and GERD

Symptoms of heartburn and GERD can be the same as some symptoms of serious medical conditions such as a heart attack, stomach ulcer, and gall bladder and pancreatic problems. Talk to your doctor right away if you’re heartburn or GERG symptoms.

To reduce your risk of heartburn and GERD, you also can:

  • Avoid highly acidic and caffeinated foods and drinkssuch as citrus fruits, fatty and fried foods, garlic, onions, mint, spicy foods, tomato-based foods, carbonated drinks, and vinegar.
  • Lose weight. Being overweight can increase the risk of heartburn.
  • Limit alcohol use. Alcohol can upset your stomach and cause heartburn.
  • Reduce stress through exercise, meditation, or massage.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Prop up your head while sleeping. Sleep with your head on two or more pillows. Or, try putting wooden blocks under the two feet of the bed closest to the headboard to slant your bed down. This will help keep the gastric acids from traveling up the esophagus.
  • Don’t wear tight clothes or belts. Looser clothing can help alleviate some heartburn symptoms.
  • Avoid unnecessary bending. Bending at the waist can send stomach acids into the esophagus.
  • Slowly eat small amounts of food, to better let your stomach digest.
  • Don’t lie down after a meal. And don’t eat 2 to 3 hours before you go to bed.
  • Talk to your doctor about prescription or over-the-counter medications that can help your heartburn.

Questions to Ask My Doctor About Breast Cancer

Extracted from www.cancer.org

Being told you have breast cancer can be scary and stressful. You probably have many questions and concerns. Learning about the disease, how it is treated, and how this information might apply to you is a lot to do on your own. You might need some help.  American Cancer Society can give you general information about this disease and its treatment, but your doctor is the best source of information about your situation.

It is important for you to be able to talk frankly and openly with your cancer care team.  They want to answer all of your questions, no matter how minor they might seem to you.  But it helps if you know what to ask. Here are some questions that you can use to help you better understand this cancer and your options. Don’t be afraid to take notes and tell the doctors or nurses when you don’t understand what they’re saying.  The questions are grouped by how far along you are in the cancer experience. Not all of these questions will apply to you, but they should help get you started.

For more information on breast cancer please contact the American Cancer Society toll free at 1-800-227-2345 or online at www.cancer.org.

When you’re told you have breast cancer

1. Exactly what type of breast cancer do I have?

2. How do I get a copy of my pathology report?

3. Has the cancer spread to my lymph nodes or other organs?

4. What is the cancer’s stage? What does that mean?

5. How does this affect my treatment options and long-term outcome (prognosis)?

6. What are my chances of survival, based on my cancer as you see it?

7. How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?

8. Will I need other tests before we can decide on treatment?

9. What are my treatment choices?

10. What treatment do you recommend and why?

11. What is the goal of my treatment?

12. Should I think about genetic testing?

13. Should I get a second opinion? How do I do that?

14. Should I think about taking part in a clinical trial?

 When deciding on a treatment plan

1. What are the chances the cancer will come back after this treatment?

2. What would we do if the treatment doesn’t work or if the cancer comes back?

3. Will I go through menopause as a result of the treatment?

4. Will I be able to have children after treatment? How about breast feeding?

5. How much will I have to pay for treatment? Will my insurance cover any of it?

6. How long will treatment last? What will it involve? Where will it be done?

7. What risks and side effects should I expect?

8. What can I do to reduce the side effects of the treatment?

9. How will treatment affect my daily activities?

10. Will I lose my hair? If so, what can I do about it?

11. If treatment includes surgery:

  • · Tell me about breast reconstruction. Is breast reconstruction surgery an option if I want it?  What would it involve in my case?
  • · Can I have reconstruction at the same time as the surgery to remove the cancer? What are the pros and cons of having it done right away or waiting until later?
  • · Will you have to take out lymph nodes?

12. What will my breasts look and feel like after my treatment? Will I have normal feeling in them?

13. Will the treatment hurt? Will I have any scars?

 Before treatment

1. Will I need a breast form (prosthesis), and if so, where can I get one?

2. What should I do to get ready for treatment?

3. Will I need blood transfusions?

4. Should I change what I eat or make other lifestyle changes?

 During treatment

Once you have decided on treatment, you will need to know what to expect and what to look for. All of these questions may not apply to you, but asking the ones that do may be helpful.

1. How will we know if the treatment is working?

2. Is there anything I can do to manage side effects?

3. What symptoms or side effects should I tell you about right away?

4. How can I reach you on nights, holidays, or weekends?

5. Do I need to change what I eat during treatment?

6. Are there any limits on what I can do? Will I be able to work during treatment?

7. What kind of exercise should I do, and how often?

8. Can you suggest a mental health professional I can see if I start to feel overwhelmed, depressed, or distressed?

9. Will I need special tests, such as imaging scans or blood tests, and how often?

 After treatment

1. Do I need a special diet after treatment?

2. Are there any limits on what I can do?

3. What kind of exercise should I do now?

4. What type of follow-up will I need after treatment?

5. How often will I need to have follow-up exams and imaging tests?

6. What blood tests will I need?

7. How will I know if the cancer has come back? What should I watch for?

8. What are my options if the cancer comes back?


Side Effects – Swallowing, Smell and Taste Changes

Extracted from Breastcancer.org

Problems swallowing, also called dysphagia, can make eating an uncomfortable process. During meals, you may experience gagging, choking, coughing, spitting, or pain when trying to swallow. The sensation that food is stuck in your throat, upper chest, or behind the breastbone can cause feelings of chest pain, heaviness, or pressure.

The following breast cancer treatments can affect your ability to swallow:

Some pain medications also can cause swallowing problems.

Managing swallowing problems

  • Eat slowly and chew food thoroughly to make it as soft and manageable as possible.
  • Try thicker liquids such as milkshakes, yogurt, pudding, and gelatin. Thicker liquids may be easier to swallow.
  • Eat pureed food such as blended meats, cereals, and fruits. You may need to add some liquid.
  • Stay away from dry foods such as crackers, nuts, and chips.
  • Avoid very hot foods, as these could cause more swallowing pain or difficulty.
  • Don’t eat spicy and acidic foods that can irritate your mouth and throat.
  • Ask your doctor if you can crush medicines that are in pill or tablet form and mix with juice or applesauce. Make sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist first — some medicines can be dangerous if crushed. Other medicines react badly with certain foods and others must be taken on an empty stomach.
  • Avoid alcohol — it can burn your mouth or throat if you have sores.
  • Sit up and stay seated while eating to ease the swallowing process.


Certain medications can change the way the receptors in your mouth and nose tell your brain what you’re tasting or smelling. Some foods may taste bitter, rancid, or metallic. Foods that used to be your favorites may taste different while you’re getting treatment. This condition usually only lasts as long as treatment does — in most cases, your will senses will return to normal a couple months after you’re done.

The following breast cancer treatments can affect your sense of taste and smell:

Some pain medications also can affect your sense of taste and smell.

Managing taste and smell changes

  • Try new foods. If you find yourself disliking your favorite foods, try foods that are different from what you normally eat. Be sure to try new foods when you’re feeling good so you don’t develop more food dislikes.
  • Eat lightly and several hours before you receive chemotherapy. This helps prevent food aversions caused by nausea or vomiting after chemotherapy.
  • Ask another person to cook for you, or rely on prepared foods from a store if you can’t stand the smell of food. You can also order take-out.
  • Try eating cold foods such as yogurt, cottage cheese, or a sandwich because there will be fewer smells.
  • Try eating with plastic utensils if your food tastes like metal.
  • Rinse your mouth with tea, ginger ale, salted water, or baking soda dissolved in water before you eat to help clear your taste buds.
  • Suck on ice chips in between bites to help numb taste buds.
  • Try other sources of protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, or soy foods if red meat doesn’t taste right. Eggs also have a lot of protein.
  • Eat fresh vegetables. They may be more appealing to you than canned or frozen ones. Canned soups and vegetables may have a metallic taste.
  • Try peeled, sweet baby carrots instead of large unpeeled carrots, which often taste extremely bitter.
  • Don’t force yourself to eat foods that taste bad to you. Find substitutes that you can tolerate.

Other Side Effects – Neuropathy

Extracted from Breast Cancer.org

Neuropathy is the general term for pain or discomfort caused by damage to the nerves of the peripheral nervous system. Your peripheral nervous system is made up of the many nerves that bring signals from the brain and spinal cord to other—or peripheral—parts of the body, such as the hands and feet. Damage to those nerves can affect the way the body sends signals to muscles, joints, skin, and internal organs. This can cause pain, numbness, loss of sensation, and other symptoms.

For people with breast cancer, the most common cause of uncomfortable or even painful neuropathy that limits activity is chemotherapy—often referred to as chemotherapy-associated peripheral neuropathy. Chemotherapy medications travel throughout the body, where they can cause damage to the nerves.

Chemotherapy medications that can cause neuropathy include:

Chemotherapy-associated neuropathy can start any time after treatment begins, and it may worsen as treatment continues. Usually it begins in the toes, but it can expand to include the legs, arms, and hands. The most common symptoms include:

  • pain, tingling, burning, weakness, tickling, or numbness in arms, hands, legs, and feet
  • sudden, sharp, stabbing, or shocking pain sensations
  • loss of touch sensation
  • clumsiness
  • trouble using hands to pick up objects or fasten clothing

Other possible symptoms are:

  • balance problems and difficulty walking
  • hearing loss
  • jaw pain
  • constipation
  • changes in sensitivity to temperature
  • decreased reflexes
  • trouble swallowing
  • trouble passing urine
  • blood pressure changes

Managing neuropathy

If you suspect you have neuropathy, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor might be able to switch your medication to ease your nerve problems. Your doctor also may prescribe medicines, pain patches, or topical creams that can help. If neuropathy isn’t treated, it can become a long-term problem.

Depending on what symptoms you’re experiencing, you may find the following tips helpful in managing the effects of neuropathy:

  • Handle sharp objects carefully to avoid cutting yourself accidentally.
  • Be careful when moving. Walk slowly and use handrails if they’re available.
  • Put no-slip bath mats in your tub or shower to avoid falling.
  • Clear areas where you frequently walk of objects such area rugs, cords, toys, and other clutter, to reduce your risk of tripping and falling.
  • Consider using a cane to steady yourself.
  • Protect your feet from injury by wearing shoes or slippers as often as possible.
  • Check water temperature with a thermometer or wear gloves to avoid burning yourself when you’re bathing or cleaning.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Find a physical therapy or exercise program designed for people with neuropathic pain.
  • Consider complementary medicine techniques such asacupuncture and massage to help stimulate and restore feeling in your nerves.
  • Ask your doctor about seeing a pain specialist if your symptoms are severe and/or long-lasting.

Treatment Side Effects – Hot Flashes

Welcome to your own personal summer!

A hot flash is a sudden, intense, hot feeling on your face and upper body. Hot flashes can be accompanied by a rapid heartbeat, sweating, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, headache, weakness, or a feeling of suffocation, followed by chills. Hot flashes are caused by a decrease in estrogen. When estrogen levels drop or estrogen receptors are blocked, the body’s temperature control system gets confused and the result is hot flashes.

Hot flashes are a symptom of menopause. If you’re having treatment for breast cancer, hot flashes can be more intense and last longer, particularly if menopause was medically induced.

Several treatments for breast cancer can cause hot flashes:

Managing hot flashes

If you’re having severe hot flashes, talk to your doctor. If you’re taking hormonal therapy, you may be able to stop your treatment for a week or two and then restart it at a lower dose and slowly increase it. Your body may be better able to adjust to the changes this way.

You can also try these tips to ease hot flashes:

  • Avoid hot flash triggers such as stress, cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, diet pills, spicy food, hot food or drink, hot tubs, saunas, hot showers, hot rooms, and hot weather.
  • Reduce the fat in your diet. Over time, a low-fat diet helps some people with hot flashes. Losing excess weight helps, but losing too much weight, or being too thin, can make hot flashes worse.
  • Dress in layers so you can peel off one layer after another as you get warmer.
  • Don’t wear heavy or thick fabrics such as wool, synthetics, or silk. Wear loose and airy fabrics such as cotton, linen, and rayon.
  • Keep ice water nearby so you can sip it to cool down. Pack a small cooler full of cold water to carry with you.
  • Lower the room temperature by turning down the thermostat, turning on the air conditioner, or turning on the ceiling fan.
  • Sleep in cotton pajamas or a nightgown. If you have hot flashes and perspire at night, the nightclothes are easier to change than the sheets.
  • Put cotton sheets on your bed. Cotton soaks up sweat and dries quickly.
  • Take a cool shower before going to bed.
  • Consider complementary and holistic therapies. Techniques that may help include meditationmassageyoga, and acupuncture.
  • Ask your doctor about techniques to help you sleep through the night if your hot flashes are affecting your sleep.
  • Be patient. Your body is going through changes. Once the changes take place, you’ll feel more like yourself again.

Find Financial Help When You have Cancer

Extracted from CancerCare.org

Cancer is an expensive illness. Many of the people who contact cancer agencies  each year cite financial need as a major source of difficulty. Some have no health insurance, some are insured but don’t have coverage for parts of their treatment such as prescription drug co-pays, and many do not have extra income to meet new costs such as child care or transportation to treatment. People with cancer and their caregivers often have to cut back on time spent at work, which means their income decreases at the same time that their bills pile up.

Financial stress often causes emotional stress. For example, when a family is under new financial pressures, it can create feelings of worry, sadness, and anxiety. Because cancer treatment often means years of medical care, financial concerns can influence major life decisions about work, housing, and school. There is assistance available, and CancerCare can help you navigate the maze of government, nonprofit, and pharmaceutical programs, as well as other sources of financial help. Here are some of the things you can do:

Talk to your insurance company. Many companies will assign a case manager to help you work through insurance concerns, clarify benefits, and suggest ways to get other health services.

Talk to your health care providers about your needs. Many treatment centers have social workers who help you sort through financial concerns. CancerCare social workers can also help you.

Find out which government programs (entitlements) you are eligible for, and apply promptly. To contact the Social Security Administration, call 1-800-772-1213 or visit www.ssa.gov. To contact the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, call 1-800-633-4227 or visit www.cms.gov. For Medicaid information, contact local listings for a Medicaid office in your state.

Learn how private organizations can help you. There are nonprofit programs for co-pay relief, as well as pharmaceutical patient assistance programs to help those who do not qualify for other aid. See our listing of financial assistance resources.