Follow-Up Care and Monitoring After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Women can be forgiven for classifying the years of their life as BC and AC, before cancer, and after cancer. Once you have been diagnosed with cancer, life never seems to be the same again. This is not to say that you won’t be able to lead a long and happy life, but it does mean you will need to go through treatment at the time the cancer is diagnosed, and then go for regular follow-ups and monitoring for the rest of your life.
The frequency with which you need to see your doctor should diminish over time if you cancer is cured. Self-exams, mammograms of any existing breast and regular trips to the gynecologist will all be part of the follow up.
Watching for recurrence
You will need to watch for any signs the cancer might have returned, which is known as recurrence. If it does, you will have more treatment and perhaps different treatment options to prevent the cancer from growing and spreading. Recurrence is a very common fear amongst women, but it does not have to paralyze you and prevent you from enjoying life to the full.
Watching for metastasis
A huge concern is whether or not the cancer might spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph notes, and major organs like brain, liver and lung. Monitoring for certain symptoms can help determine if your breast cancer has become advanced.
Long-term side effects of treatment
You will also be monitored in order to determine if there have been any long-term side effects to the treatment. For example, radiation therapy benefits many women, but it is not without risk. The radiation can weaken ribs in the area where it is being administered. It can also cause damage to the brachial nerves which control movement and sensation in the arm and its hand. It might also cause lung issues, though these are usually only temporary during the time of the treatment.
The truth is that more women are living longer than ever before after their cancer diagnosis, compared to even a few years ago, or in the pre-tamoxifen era, but this also leaves a lot of unanswered questions about long-term side effects. Work with your doctor and don’t be afraid to report things that seem ‘weird’ to you because you are afraid of sounding silly. Be sure you have a good relationship with your oncologist (cancer doctor) and staff, because your relationship will be likely to extend well beyond the time of your actual cancer treatment.