Nearly half of patients treated for early-stage breast cancer report at least one severe side effect, according to the results of a study published in Cancer.

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

In total, 93% of the women reported experiencing at least one of the seven side effects, with 45% rating it severe or very severe. The side effects most likely to be rated as severe or very severe were pain, skin irritation, and constipation.

Women who received both chemotherapy and radiation were 30% more likely to report severe side effects than women who received only one type of treatment. Women who had double mastectomies were twice as likely as women who had lumpectomies to report severe side effects. Latina women were 30% more likely than Caucasian women to experience severe or very severe side effects.

Most of the women sought help for the side effects during routine appointments, but 9% scheduled appointments to address their side effects and 5% went to an emergency department for treatment.

The researchers noted that women must be aware of and understand the potential for side effects of their treatment and what to do if they occur. Oncology nurses are in a key position to provide this patient education.

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