Thanks to regular screenings and new treatments, more women are beating breast cancer today than ever before. Although about 1 in 8 American women will be diagnosed with this illness in her lifetime, if the disease is caught in its early stages, almost 100% of those diagnosed will be alive 5 years later, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
If you've just completed treatment for breast cancer, you're probably eager to put that phase of your life behind you. At the same time, you may have concerns about the best way to stay well during the years ahead. Working with your health care provider to get ongoing care and make healthy lifestyle choices is an excellent place to start.
There is no way to guarantee that breast cancer will not come back after treatment. There's a chance that the cancer could come back in the same breast or spread elsewhere. That's why follow-up care is so crucial.
Now that your treatment is over, you may be tempted to stop going to the doctor for a while. But, it's more important than ever to have regular checkups. They allow your health care provider to monitor your recovery, which may include addressing any side effects of therapies you received. He or she also can check for new tumors or recurrences. For example, your health care provider may feel around your breasts, chest, neck, and armpits for unusual lumps. If cancer is detected early, it's usually more treatable.
Your health care provider will probably start with checkups every 3 to 6 months. As time passes, exams tend to be less frequent. And, after 5 years, many women see their providers just once a year. Whatever the schedule, the most important thing is to keep all your appointments.
You should also get regular mammograms. Because the risk for breast cancer is higher in women who have already had it, screening is especially critical after treatment ends. Talk to your doctor about your mammogram schedule and when you should start having them after treatment. How often you need them depends on the type of treatment you had.
If you have been prescribed medication, take it as directed. Estrogen promotes the growth of many types of breast cancer. To control the effects of this hormone, some women use medications such as tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors for several years after completing their initial treatment. Hormone therapy, however, does not help triple-negative breast cancer. This is breast cancer that does not have the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. Your health care provider can tell you whether medicines may be appropriate for you — and, if so, whether certain tests also are recommended. For example, tamoxifen raises the risk for uterine cancer. Women using this medication usually have yearly pelvic exams.
A healthy lifestyle also may help lower the risk for a new or recurrent breast cancer, the National Cancer Institute says. Your health care provider may offer these recommendations:
Avoid tobacco. If you smoke, ask your provider about quit aids, such as the nicotine patch or nicotine gum.
Choose a healthy diet. Follow an eating plan that helps you maintain a healthy weight. If your doctor advises you to lose extra pounds, eating smaller portions and limiting sugar and fat may help. For overall health, the ACS recommends that you eat at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits every day, choose whole grains, cut back on red meat, and limit alcohol.
Exercise regularly. Exercise may help you avoid extra pounds. The ACS recommends doing an activity of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week. Doing some physical activity above your usual activities, no matter what your level of activity, can have many health benefits. Before you begin, ask your doctor which exercises or activities may be appropriate for you.