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Follow-Up Care

When active breast cancer treatment is over, you enter a new phase and will see your health care team less often. Yet the health care professionals who guided you through your treatment are still available to support you if you need them.

Your visits to the hospital or cancer centre will become fewer and the size of your health care team will likely become smaller because you do not require active, hospital-based treatment. Some people will continue to take hormone therapyHormone therapy:
A treatment method for breast cancer that uses medication to block the production of the hormone estrogen, or the way that it works in the body.
medication for as long as 10 years after active treatment ends to help reduce the risk that the breast cancer will return (recurrenceRecurrence:
Cancer that returns after treatment.
).

For a while, you will continue to see some or all of the specialists who have been involved in your treatment such as your surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologistOncologist:
A doctor or surgeon who specializes in treating cancer. A medical oncologist specializes in drug therapy (chemotherapy) for cancer. A radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation.
. At some point in the future, your family doctor or nurse practitioner may become the primary person who is responsible for coordinating your ongoing care, in partnership with your oncologist and/or surgeon.

If you do not have a family doctor or nurse practitioner, speak to a member of your health care team. They can connect you with a social worker who will work with you to find a family doctor or nurse practitioner in your area. In some provinces and territories, the Ministry of Health may have a program to help connect people to a primary health care provider who is accepting new patients.

No matter who is coordinating your care, all of the members of your health care team should keep you fully informed and let you know exactly what follow up arrangements have been made and who is responsible for carrying them out. When your active treatment ends, this is an opportunity to discuss who will be involved in your follow-up care with your health care team.

Regular Health Check-Ups

It is recommended that women who have had breast cancer visit their health care provider for a check-up every 3 to 6 months for the first 3 years after active treatment has been completed, then every 6 to 12 months for the next 2 years and once a year after 5 years.

Your follow-up care will also likely include a schedule for regular clinical breast examinationsClinical breast exam (CBE):
A physical examination of the breasts by a health-care provider.
and mammogramsMammogram (also called mammography):
A low-dose X-ray of the breast. It is used to take images of the breasts and is an important screening tool for the earlier detection of breast cancer.
that will help detect any signs of cancer recurrence (cancer coming back). There may also be other tests to check for signs of recurrence. Ask your health care provider what your follow-up plan will include.

Signs and Symptoms For Follow-Up

Having been through breast cancer treatment, you may be more aware of physical changes in your body than you were before. Keep in mind that many physical changes are temporary. They will often come and go and most should disappear within a few weeks. Some side effects and physical changes from treatment, like body aches from chemotherapyChemotherapy:
A treatment method that uses medication to destroy cancer cells.
, may take longer to go away. Keep your health care provider informed about any side effects that seem to be lasting. 

Some signs and symptoms need special attention. Check with your health care provider if you experience any of the following:

  • A new pain that won’t go away

  • A cough that won’t go away

  • A lump in either breast, neck, armpit or above the collarbone

  • Unusual changes in the site of your surgery or in the scar itself

  • A tired feeling that won’t go away

  • Loss of appetite

  • Weakness, tingling or numbness in the arm, hand or leg

  • Swelling in the arm, shoulder, breast, chest, armpit, back, hand or fingers

  • Any new symptom that is unusual or severe and doesn’t go away, such as bone pain, shortness of breath or headaches

Tips For Keeping Track Of Your Health

  • Ask questions. Before your medical check-ups, write down any questions or concerns you have about your health—including any side effects you have experienced or any new or persistent health changes. Some women find it helps them to keep a notebook or  journal to write down their questions, concerns or observations. No question is trivial or silly and your health care provider will want to know how you are so they can help take the best care of you possible.

  • Keep up-to-date records of your medical care. These include records of your breast cancer treatment and medications for other conditions you may have. Also let your health care provider know about any over-the-counter medication you are taking, including vitamin supplements or natural/herbal remedies.

  • Look after all your health care needs. While you were in active treatment for breast cancer, you may have put other health needs and appointments on the back burner. Now may be a good time to book any overdue health appointments.

 

Sources:

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation-Ontario Region & Princess Margaret Hospital. (2010). Getting Back on Track. Life after breast cancer treatment. Toronto, ON: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.