Breast Cancer Treatment: Chemotherapy
Breast cancer surgery: Surgical removal of lymph nodes
When are the lymph nodes in the armpit removed? Before breast cancer surgery, it is usually examined whether the lymph nodes in the armpit are already infected with cancer cells. The so-called sentinel lymph node is removed and examined for cancer cells. The sentinel lymph node is the lymph node to which the lymph fluid from the tumor area drains first. If the sentinel lymph node is infected with cancer cells, the lymph nodes are removed from the armpit on the affected side during breast cancer surgery in order to prevent further spread of the cancer cells via the lymphatic system.
After lymph nodes in the armpit have been removed, there is a risk that the lymphatic fluid will build up in the arm up to the fingers on the affected side. It is important that the lymphatic congestion is recognized early so that appropriate countermeasures can be taken. Because if the lymph congestion lasts for a longer period of time, it worsens the blood circulation in the affected arm. The skin then becomes increasingly dry and scaly, and small injuries heal poorly. The affected skin is also susceptible to infection.
Recognize and treat lymphatic congestion
The following signs indicate lymphatic congestion: weakness, reduced mobility and swelling of the arm and hand. The swelling becomes noticeable, for example, when the ring on the finger no longer fits or constricts, or when the sleeve of the outer clothing is suddenly too tight.
Go to the doctor. He can prescribe lymphatic drainage and, if necessary, additional compression therapy in the form of compression bandages. At home you can use these tips to promote lymphatic drainage:
- Regularly move the arm and hand with gymnastic exercises. Be careful not to train to the point of exhaustion.
- Elevate your arm with a pillow while resting, such as while watching TV.
- Avoid wearing tight clothing or constricting jewelry on the affected hand.
Breast Cancer Treatment: Radiation Therapy / Radiation Therapy
Radiation can be used, for example, after breast cancer surgery to destroy remaining cancer cells and prevent breast cancer from coming back. If the breast cancer has already metastasized to the bones, radiation therapy can help relieve the pain.
Breast Cancer Treatment: Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy before breast cancer surgery can help the tumor shrink in size. The S3 guideline “Breast Cancer” recommends this procedure for inflammatory breast cancer or a locally advanced breast tumor. However, chemotherapy can also take place after the operation, for example to prevent a return (a so-called recurrence).
You can read about how chemotherapy works and what side effects are possible in the guide to “cancer therapy”.
Tips for those affected and their families to slow down hair loss
Some drugs given during chemotherapy cause partial or complete hair loss. This is often a drastic experience for those affected, because now the cancer is also obvious to outsiders. It is important to know that the hair starts to grow again about two to four weeks after the last chemotherapy. If hair loss is expected, here are some tips that may not prevent hair loss, but may slow it down:
- If possible, use a mild shampoo and a soft hairbrush.
- If possible, wash your hair two days after chemotherapy.
- Try to limit the number of times you wash your hair to twice a week.
- Wash your hair with warm water instead of hot water.
- Try to avoid blow-drying. Gently pat your hair dry with an absorbent towel.
- Avoid coloring your hair during chemotherapy. Protect hair from extreme heat from perms or heated curlers.
- When styling your hair, make sure that there is no tension on the scalp – for example with tightly tied braids, braids or hair clips.
If you’ve already lost all your hair, be sure to take these simple steps to protect your sensitive scalp:
- Protection from Heat or Cold: Cover your head with a wig, hat, cap or headscarf to protect yourself from heat or cold.
- Sun Protection: Apply sunscreen to your scalp to protect against UV rays and sunburn.
- Protection against dehydration: Apply a moisturizer or lotion to your scalp to protect the skin from drying out.
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