Completing your main treatments for breast cancer can be a great feeling. Hopefully your surgery went as expected and you had a smooth recovery. And if you had radiation therapy or chemotherapy, perhaps you were excited to ring the bell at the end of treatment.
Still, it’s not uncommon to feel less than ecstatic at the end of breast cancer treatment. Maybe you needed an additional surgery to improve your satisfaction with the results of breast reconstruction. Or, like a lot of people, you may have felt conflicted about ringing the “chemo bell,” or feel anxious about the idea of seeing your doctors less frequently.
Many people are ready and able to put breast cancer behind them after completing treatment. But others may worry about the ongoing screening needed to monitor for breast cancer recurrence (the cancer coming back). Some people may have long-term side effects from treatment that they need to manage. And for people diagnosed with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, hormonal therapy will likely be part of their ongoing treatment for a number of years to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Whatever your experience is at the end of breast cancer treatment, you and your medical team should have a survivorship care plan in place to ensure you have the best ongoing care and quality of life possible moving forward.
Here are some resources for those of you who have finished or will soon finish your primary treatments for breast cancer.
Your survivorship care plan
“Survivorship” is a way of referring to life after you finish your main treatments for breast cancer. Many experts encourage people to work with their doctors to start planning for life after breast cancer even before treatment begins. There are steps you can take early to prevent, minimize, or prepare for potential long-term side effects or other diseases that breast cancer survivors may be at higher risk for.
Still, it’s never too late to work with your medical team to develop a survivorship care plan — a written document that sums up the treatments you’ve received, and outlines any long-term side effects you may have and how you’ll be monitored for these and other health conditions.
Learn more about Planning Ahead for Survivorship.
Survivorship Care PlansOct. 20, 2018
Long-term and late treatment side effects
Always tell your doctors about any troubling side effects you are experiencing so you can treat them as soon as possible. Depending on the treatments you had, some side effects can start during treatment, just after treatment, or even months later.
Some late and long-term side effects that people may experience after treatment ends include:
Pain is a common side effect of certain breast cancer treatments. Depending on the treatment you have, the type and severity of pain will vary. For example, you may experience pain during recovery from surgery in the parts of the body where surgery was performed, while certain hormonal therapies called aromatase inhibitors are known to cause joint pain.
Learn more about Pain as a treatment side effect and ways to manage it.
Lymphedema can happen years after breast cancer surgery or radiation therapy, especially if you have lymph nodes removed. Lymphedema is an abnormal buildup of fluid called lymph that can cause swelling, usually in the arm and hand in people who have been treated for breast cancer.
Learn more about Lymphedema, including ways to reduce your risk and treatment options.
Lymphedema 101Apr. 30, 2021
Fatigue is the most common side effect of breast cancer treatment, affecting as many as 9 out of 10 people. If you continue to feel tired all the time and it doesn’t get better with rest, talk to your doctor, and learn about steps you can take to help manage this side effect.
Learn more about Fatigue.
Cancer-Related Fatigue: What It Is and How to Manage ItJul. 6, 2019
Neuropathy is a potential side effect of some chemotherapy medicines that causes pain, numbness, or discomfort resulting from damage to the nerves. It usually begins in the toes and can expand to the legs, arms, and hands as treatment continues. Neuropathy can also be caused by surgery, radiation therapy, and also some targeted therapy medicines.
Learn more about Neuropathy.
Neuropathy: Causes and TreatmentsAug. 16, 2018
Some breast cancer treatments can mimic the symptoms of menopause or cause treatment-induced menopause, which can be temporary or permanent depending on your age and other factors. Menopausal symptoms can include hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, loss of sex drive, and other effects.
Learn more about Menopausal Symptoms and how to manage them.
Sexual Side Effects of Breast Cancer TreatmentSep. 17, 2020
Staying on track with hormonal therapy
If you have been diagnosed with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, your doctor may recommend hormonal therapy (also called endocrine therapy or anti-estrogen therapy). Estrogen makes hormone receptor-positive breast cancers grow. Hormonal therapy medicines lower the amount of estrogen in the body and block the action of estrogen on breast cancer cells, which helps lower the risk of the cancer coming back after surgery.
Taking hormonal therapy medicines to treat hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer is a long-term commitment. You'll most likely take hormonal therapy for 5 or 10 years to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.
You'll get the best results from treatment when you follow your personal treatment plan completely and on schedule. Doctors call this "full compliance." Staying on track with hormonal therapy can be a challenge, especially after the first few months.
Learn more about Hormonal Therapy.
Adding complementary or holistic therapies to your breast cancer treatment plan can be helpful for managing side effects or protecting your mental and emotional health. There are a wide variety of complementary therapies you can talk to your doctor about trying during or after treatment, such as acupuncture, medical cannabis, meditation, Reiki, or yoga.
Learn more about Complementary Therapies.
Acupuncture to Ease Breast Cancer Treatment Side EffectsSep. 17, 2020
What Is Mindfulness?May. 24, 2019
Reiki: What It Is and How It Helps People With CancerMar. 8, 2019
Diet and exercise
Regular exercise is an important part of being as healthy as you can be. More and more research is showing that exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back (recurrence).
Eating a healthy diet is also important. When combined with exercising and maintaining a healthy weight, eating well is an excellent way to help your body stay strong and healthy during survivorship.
Learn more about Exercise and Diet and Nutrition.
Managing your medical records
Because records of your medical information are kept by different doctors in different places, it’s a good idea to keep your own copies of your medical records that you can access whenever you need to.
Learn more about How to Get and Organize Your Medical Records.