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The following is a brief overview. For more information on surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, please consult the websites listed on our organizations page.

Gather all the information you can at this point. Talk to your doctor, talk to your friends and family, talk to anyone who has been through this process.

Questions for your doctor:
  • What kinds of surgery can I consider?
  • Which operation do you recommend for me?
  • Is breast sparing surgery followed by radiation therapy an option for me?
  • Do I need my lymph nodes removed? Why?
  • What is the risk of developing lymphedema? What precautions will I have to take to avoid developing lymphedema?
  • How will I feel after the operation?
  • How long will it take for me to recover from the operation?
  • Where will the scars be? What will they look like?
  • If I decide to have plastic surgery to rebuild my breast, how and when can that be done?
  • Will I have to do special exercises?
  • When can I get back to my normal activities?
To help you make the decision between a mastectomy and a lumpectomy, consider the following:
  • The effect each one has on survival
  • Your age and overall health
  • Grade and stage of the cancer
  • How important keeping your breast is
  • The peace of mind you'll have about how the cancer was treated
  • Your ability to go for radiation therapy 5 days per week for several weeks if you choose to have a lumpectomy
First things first. Most of the side effects of chemotherapy are temporary. Try to keep this in the back of your mind as you embark on this difficult stage of the journey.

What is it?
Chemotherapy is a treatment that is intended to kill cancer cells in the body. There are different types of chemotherapy but all of them have the potential for causing side effects, some of which can be serious. The best way to find out which drugs cause which side effects is to ask your doctor.

The most common side effects include: hair loss, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, premature menopause, low blood cell counts (this makes you more susceptible to things like infections or increased risk of bleeding).

Questions for your doctor:
  • Why do I need this treatment?
  • What drugs will I be taking?
  • What are the benefits for having chemotherapy?
  • What side effects can I expect?
  • Will I lose my hair?
  • How long will I be on this treatment?
Radiation: What to expect
After a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy, your doctor will most likely recommend radiation therapy in order to prevent the tumor from growing back in the area where it was removed. Radiation destroys single or very small clusters of cancer cells that may still exist even after surgery. You can expect to receive radiation therapy 5 days a week for 5–6 weeks. The good news is that the treatment only lasts for a few minutes (except for the first visit which usually lasts longer).

The most common side effects are skin irritation, swelling or a feeling of heaviness on the breast, sunburn-like changes to your skin, and fatigue. Because the side effects of radiation are cumulative, you probably won't experience them until the third or fourth week of treatment. If you do see changes in your skin you can expect them to disappear within 6 to 12 months, although some women find that it takes longer.

Questions for your doctor:
  • Why do I need this treatment?
  • What are the risks and side effects of this treatment?
  • When will the treatments begin?
  • When will they end?
  • How will I feel during radiation therapy?
  • What can I do to take care of myself during therapy?
  • Can I continue my normal activities?
  • How will my breast look afterward?
  • What are the chances of the tumor coming back in my breast?
  • If I choose to have a mastectomy, will I still need radiation therapy?
  • If I have a large number of lymph nodes removed, will radiation therapy increase my chances for developing lymphedema?
This is simply a brief overview of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. For more information on these stages of treatment, check out a list of helpful resources here.

These resources refer to websites maintained by third parties over whom Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation has no control. As such, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation makes no representation as to the accuracy, completeness, adequacy, or any other aspect of the information contained on such websites. What you need to know. Available at: Accessed July 16, 2004.

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