Living as a Breast Cancer Survivor

Completing breast cancer treatments may come with a combination of feelings and questions about what happens next. At Willamette Valley Cancer Institute (WVCI), we understand that you’ll still need additional medical and emotional support even once your treatment plans are finished. To help you find some peace of mind and give you some general direction, we’ve compiled a list of considerations for living as a survivor of breast cancer.

Follow-up Care After Completing Breast Cancer Treatment

While it’s certainly an achievement to complete breast cancer treatment, you should expect to continue follow-up care. Follow-up care can include additional appointments, tests, and screenings. Here is a general breakdown of what your follow-up care may look like.

  • Doctor visits will occur more frequently after you first complete breast cancer treatment. Over time, those appointments will be spaced out several months apart. Once you’ve been cancer-free for five years, you’ll likely only have annual check-ups.
  • Mammograms are a typical part of follow-up care. Likely, you’ll be asked to complete a mammogram 3-6 months after the completion of your treatment. If you’ve had a mastectomy (removal of the breast), you will not have to have a mammogram on that side, but will still need one on the other side.
  • Pelvic exams should be completed once per year since some breast cancer medications can increase your uterine cancer risk.
  • Bone density tests are scheduled if you’re taking any type of hormone treatment for breast cancer.

Future Care Plan for After Breast Cancer

Your breast cancer doctor may discuss a future care plan for how you will address any issues that may occur due to your breast cancer diagnosis. This may include identifying a plan if your cancer returns or if you experience prolonged side effects from your breast cancer treatment.

Maintain Medical Records

You’ve probably noticed by now that a cancer diagnosis and treatment come with quite a few medical records. It’s a good idea to organize those records so that you can share them with your primary care physician. You’ll want to include helpful information such as an overview of your diagnosis, pathology reports, and any treatments that you’ve completed. While medical records are stored digitally, it’s always helpful to have your own copies on hand. You won’t have to wait for your doctor to gather the information, and you’ll be ready for all of your future appointments.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer Recurrence

Once you’ve completed a breast cancer treatment program, it’s only natural that you may have some concerns about cancer returning. You likely have questions about what you can do to lower your risk of developing breast cancer again. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Maintain a healthy weight: research indicates that being obese or overweight puts you at higher risk for developing cancer.
  • Exercise regularly: An ongoing exercise routine has many health benefits and may lower your risk of breast cancer or dying from breast cancer. Speak with your doctor before starting a brand new exercise routine.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Studies show that the foods you eat can have a significant impact on your health. While it’s not clear that eating a certain type of food will reduce your risk of breast cancer, research does support eating a diet rich in nutrients could put you in a lower-risk category.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation: It is suggested that women should consume no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. Studies have suggested that drinking alcohol regularly can increase your risk of certain types of cancers, including breast cancer. This is a general guideline, and there is no supporting research about the impacts of alcohol on the return of breast cancer.

Watch for Second Cancers

Cancer that comes back after treatment is known as recurrence. However, cancer that develops in addition to the original cancer is called second cancer. Being diagnosed with breast cancer puts you at a higher risk of developing second cancers later on. A second type of breast cancer is the most common second cancer that breast cancer survivors face. Other types of second cancers include:

  • Esophagus cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Soft tissue cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Melanoma

This is not a comprehensive list, and other types of cancers may also develop. Continuing your follow-up care will help your doctor identify any early warning signs of second cancers.

Support and Resources for Breast Cancer Survivors

Ongoing support and resources are beneficial tools for breast cancer survivors. Emotional support groups, patient advocacy programs, and financial resources are some of the resources we make sure that our patients have on hand. There are other resources available on the state and national levels that may be helpful to some cancer survivors. If you’d like to know more about the support and resources for breast cancer survivors, don’t hesitate to reach out to your breast cancer specialist for more information. WVCI is dedicated to being there for you every step of the way, from initial breast cancer diagnosis through recovery and into survivorship.

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