What Happens When My Cancer Treatment Is Complete?
You’ll need regular check-ups after treatment for breast cancer. Check-ups help ensure that any changes in your health are noted and treated if needed. If you have any new health problems between checkups, you should contact your doctor.
What Happens At Breast Cancer Follow-Up Appointments?
Your doctor will check how you are feeling. Likely if you had surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, your treatment team will rotate seeing you every few months at first and then your appointments become more spaced out as time goes by.
In addition to checking overall health, check-ups help detect health problems that can result from cancer treatment, such as lingering side effects or even new side effects.
Check-ups usually include an exam of the neck, underarm, chest, and breast areas. Since a new breast cancer may develop, you should continue to have regular mammograms. You probably won’t need a mammogram of a reconstructed breast or if you had a mastectomy without reconstruction. Your doctor may order other imaging procedures or lab tests.
After active cancer treatment ends, many women and men will continue to be on hormone therapy of some kind. It is important to make your doctor aware of any side effects of hormone therapy you may be experiencing, especially if those side effects disrupt your quality of life. If side effects are not addressed and managed, it may lead to a patient not taking their hormone therapy as prescribed, which means it isn’t working its best or at all to prevent a breast cancer recurrence.
During follow-up appointments, you should ask your doctors what the probability is of developing a local recurrence within the breast tissue or a distant recurrence in another organ, based on the stage of the breast cancer and the treatments you’ve had.
Fear of Recurrence
It is very common and normal to worry about your cancer coming back. However, try to not allow your mind to fixate on this. Your life was saved so that you can enjoy your life going forward and fulfill the life goals you set out to do before you were diagnosed. This can also be a time to give gratitude to those who helped you through this journey.
Facing breast cancer is a life-altering experience for most breast cancer survivors. You may look at the world differently, having been in touch with your own mortality. Try using this newfound knowledge and experience to set new life goals, perhaps helping others who become diagnosed after you.
Interested in more information about recurrence? Check out our two free eBooks:
- What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer Recurrence: The idea that breast cancer can recur is daunting. Expand your knowledge on what recurrence is and why proper follow-up care is crucial.
- Most Asked Questions About Breast Cancer Recurrence: Find answers to a wide range of questions about breast cancer recurrence, answered by two-time survivor and medical expert, Lillie Shockney
What Kinds Of Problems Need To Be Reported To My Physician During The Breast Cancer Follow-Up Phase?
You should report any changes in the treated area or in your other breast to your doctor right away.
Also, make your doctor aware of any new aches or pains that last more than 3 weeks that don’t have a reason to occur. For example, if you’ve been lifting something heavy, you may have simply hurt your back rather than experiencing a recurrence. If you have a new ache or pain elsewhere, think about what activities you have done recently that might be the cause. If you can’t think of any reasons for these new symptoms, call your doctor.
In addition to follow-up appointments with your breast oncologist, it is important to routinely see your primary care physician to address any non-cancer related health issues you may experience. You should also stay up to date on routine vaccinations and other screenings, such as colonoscopies, skin cancer checks, well-woman exams and Pap tests, cholesterol screenings, and any other tests or screenings your physician recommends.
Medically reviewed June 2023