Last updated: May 23, 2008

Despite the best efforts of doctors, oncology nurses, and social workers, one of the most frustrating things about breast cancer treatment is not knowing ahead of time exactly how much you'll suffer from side effects such as fatigue, skin changes, or post-surgery scarring. Here are three things to keep in mind about side effects while trying not to become overwhelmed by the unknown.



1. You may not feel that bad
The side effects of modern cancer treatment—whether surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation—are generally not as severe as they used to be. Lower dosing and more precise targeting means you'll probably feel a lot better than cancer patients of the past.

2. Visible changes are usually temporary
Breast cancer patients' hair will eventually grow back (unless there's some other medical reason preventing it), says V. Kay Guidry-Jones, MSW, LSW, an oncology social worker at Indiana University's Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis. The tiny tattoos from radiation treatment won't disappear but they usually lighten over time; surgery scars will fade depending on your skin type. The rashes and dry skin often resulting from chemotherapy will likely clear up as well.

3. You can control the nausea
Taking anti-nausea drugs before treatment improves the chances that you can sidestep serious queasiness and vomiting. But even if you have an unexpected episode after treatment, the drugs can provide quick relief.