Late effects of breast cancer treatment and potentials for rehabilitation

Acta Oncol. 2011 Feb;50(2):187-93. doi: 10.3109/0284186X.2010.533190.


Background: Breast cancer is the most frequent malignant disease among women world wide. Survival has been improving leading to an increasing number of breast cancer survivors, in the US estimated to about 2.6 million.

Material and methods: The literature was reviewed with focus on data from the Nordic countries.

Results: Local therapies such as breast cancer surgery and radiotherapy may cause persistent pain in the breast area, arm, and shoulder reported by 30-50% of patients after three to five years, lymphedema in 15-25% of patients, and restrictions of arm and shoulder movement in 35%. Physiotherapy is the standard treatment for the latter while no pain intervention trials have been published. Chemotherapy may cause infertility and premature menopause, resulting in vasomotor symptoms, sexual dysfunction, and osteoporosis, which are similar to the side effects of endocrine treatment in postmenopausal women. Awareness of cardiotoxicity is needed since anthracyclines, trastuzumab, and radiotherapy can damage the heart. Breast cancer survivors have an increased risk of a major depression and far from all receive adequate anti-depressive treatment. Other psychological symptoms include fear of recurrence, sleep disturbances, cognitive problems, fatigue, and sexual problems.

Discussion: To improve rehabilitation, specific goals have to be formulated into national guidelines and high priority directed towards research into developing and testing new interventions for alleviating symptoms and side effects experienced by breast cancer survivors.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age of Onset
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Breast Neoplasms / rehabilitation*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Carcinoma / psychology
  • Carcinoma / rehabilitation*
  • Carcinoma / therapy*
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mastectomy / adverse effects
  • Mastectomy / rehabilitation
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects
  • Survivors
  • Time Factors


  • Antineoplastic Agents