Here For The What Ifs: Common Questions About Breast Cancer Remission & Survivorship

While tran­si­tion­ing out of active treat­ment into sur­vivor­ship can be reliev­ing, it can stir up many emo­tions and ques­tions. To help you pre­pare for life after can­cer, sur­geon Amrit Man­gat, MD, answers ques­tions about sur­vivor­ship and remission.

What hap­pens when I enter into remis­sion? What’s next?

Typ­i­cal­ly after treat­ment is com­plet­ed and the can­cer has been elim­i­nat­ed, both your med­ical oncol­o­gist and breast sur­geon will have you fol­low up peri­od­i­cal­ly so they can mon­i­tor your progress and health. In most cas­es, your sur­geon will pro­vide fol­low-up care for about five years. Your med­ical oncol­o­gist may con­tin­ue to mon­i­tor your health for a bit longer, rang­ing from five to ten years after you have end­ed active treat­ment. Dur­ing this time, your care team will work with you to help you re-estab­lish a healthy and active lifestyle and dis­cuss ways to reduce your risk of recurrence.

What if the can­cer comes back?

In most cas­es, the can­cer will not recur. If the can­cer does recur, or a new can­cer is iden­ti­fied, your treat­ment plan will depend on the can­cer stag­ing and loca­tion. If the can­cer is local­ized to the breast tis­sue, you will like­ly under­go surgery to remove the can­cer. If the can­cer has spread to areas out­side of your breast, your med­ical oncol­o­gist and care team will per­form a com­pre­hen­sive eval­u­a­tion and devel­op a treat­ment plan that is right for you.

What if the side effects from my treat­ments don’t resolve?

Recov­ery time from surgery is fair­ly quick. For lumpec­to­my pro­ce­dures, a typ­i­cal recov­ery time is about two to three weeks. Mas­tec­to­my surgery is slight­ly longer, usu­al­ly tak­ing between six to eight weeks to return to nor­mal activ­i­ty. Oth­er side effects like fatigue and nau­sea can devel­op and linger dur­ing chemother­a­py treat­ments. The dura­tion and sever­i­ty of symp­toms can be dif­fer­ent for each per­son and depend on the types of med­ica­tions used in your chemother­a­py treat­ments and your body’s reac­tion to them. If you are hav­ing issues with severe or pro­longed side effects, you should speak with your med­ical oncol­o­gist about how to man­age them.

What if my immune sys­tem is weak­ened from treat­ment? Am I at risk for oth­er health conditions?

As with recov­ery from any sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure, fol­low­ing chemother­a­py or radi­a­tion treat­ment, your body’s immune sys­tem may be tem­porar­i­ly weak­ened. As your body heals, it is impor­tant to take pre­cau­tions to min­i­mize your expo­sure to germs and bac­te­ria that can make you sick. Wash your hands, espe­cial­ly after using the restroom or spend­ing time in pub­lic places. Avoid­ing con­tact with sick indi­vid­u­als can also help. Reg­u­lar check ups with your pri­ma­ry care physi­cian are also impor­tant to keep a close eye on your health.

What if I need ongo­ing emo­tion­al support?

We part­ner with sev­er­al com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions to pro­vide patients and their fam­i­lies with access to the phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al sup­port ser­vices that may be need­ed. Our Inte­grat­ed Oncol­o­gy Pro­gram includes nurse nav­i­ga­tors and social work­ers who can help con­nect you with com­mu­ni­ty resources through­out your treat­ment. I also encour­age patients to lean on their fam­i­ly and friends dur­ing their treat­ment. You are not alone, so don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help!

Tran­si­tion­ing from active treat­ment into rou­tine pre­ven­tive care and sur­veil­lance can be an emo­tion­al time. Once you have com­plet­ed your treat­ment and all post­op­er­a­tive appoint­ments with your sur­geon and med­ical and/​or radi­a­tion oncol­o­gist, mem­bers of our ded­i­cat­ed breast ser­vices team will work close­ly with your physi­cian to pro­vide you with ongo­ing sup­port, includ­ing symp­toms to mon­i­tor for in the years to come and gen­er­al rec­om­men­da­tions to main­tain your over­all health.

Dur­ing the month of Octo­ber, in hon­or of Nation­al Breast Can­cer Aware­ness month, we want to make screen­ing as easy as pos­si­ble. That’s why we are offer­ing free clin­i­cal breast exams with a health­care pro­fes­sion­al through­out the month at sev­er­al of our sub­ur­ban Chica­go loca­tions. For a list of avail­able dates, times and loca­tions, vis­it duly​healthand​care​.com/​F​R​E​ECBE/. To sched­ule your exam, call 630−545−7659.

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