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Acute side effects of adjuvant chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer

Charles L Shapiro, MD
Section Editor
Harold Burstein, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
Sadhna R Vora, MD


Adjuvant chemotherapy results in an improvement in both disease-free and overall survival and is routinely administered for women with early-stage breast cancer. However, treatment is associated with both acute and long-term complications for the breast cancer survivor. The number, nature, and costs of severe adverse effects experienced by women receiving adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer are relatively unknown, but may be more common than suspected from what has been reported from clinical trials.

This was illustrated in a series of 12,239 women aged 63 or younger with newly diagnosed breast cancer between 1998 and 2002, 4075 of whom were treated with adjuvant chemotherapy [1]. Women who were treated with chemotherapy were significantly more likely to visit emergency rooms for all causes (61 versus 42 percent) and for serious adverse effects (16 versus 5 percent). For patients receiving chemotherapy, the major reasons prompting hospitalization or an emergency room visit during the year after their breast cancer diagnosis were:

Fever or infection

Neutropenia or thrombocytopenia

Dehydration or electrolyte disorders

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Apr 20, 2017.
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