In most cases, breast cancer patients are recommended by their oncologists to see them every 6 months for up to 5 years, and then annually, after the treatment is completed. These regular consultations are important to check that the patient is doing well (the tumor does not relapse), but also to ensure the therapy was well supported and adapted.
What Medical Tests Are Performed?
Breast cancer monitoring is usually based on clinical examination and a mammogram, performed 6 and 12 months after treatment. Thereafter, up to 5 years, a clinical examination of the breast will be done every 6 months and a mammogram every year. In cases these checkups reveal satisfying results, a clinical examination and a mammogram will then be performed on an annual basis. In certain cases, breast ultrasound can be associated with mammography as well as a MRI, especially in cases where breast lesions are found and difficult to be interpreted.
During the monitoring of the breasts, certain health professional go further to prescribe an annual chest radiograph. Depending on the signs found, other screening such as liver ultrasound, bone scan, can be done to confirm or rule out the presence of metastases. Additionally, in many cancer centers, an annual determination of tumor markers – antigen CA 15-3, carcinoembryonic antigen(CEA) – can be requested, although these markers are not always specific and their usefulness is not formally demonstrated in breast cancer screening.
What to Expect during Consultation
At each visit after the treatment, you will be asked about your level of fatigue, pain (if there is any), appetite, and other general health questions. The health care provider will also check your weight and shape. You must not hesitate to report to the specialist any unusual symptom. Certain tests can be done to clarify the cause, which is most of the times not correlated with recurrence but an adverse reaction of the body to treatment (side effects).
For instance, even a successful surgery can cause pain and a decrease in the mobility of the arm, which can require rehabilitation in some cases. Sometimes radiation therapy can cause the development of fibrosis (the lung tissue is damaged and scarred) which may resemble small tumors. In case that happens, it is not necessary to not panic; the physician will make a difference with a fibrosis and cancerous tumor.
In cases the breast cancer treatment included hormone therapy – Femara ®, Aromasin ®, Arimidex ® or tamoxifen (Novaldex ®) – the body usually reacts to the hormonal changes by causing side effects. You need to specify to your oncologist how far you can tolerate the adverse reactions of these drugs. Although these Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are very useful in reducing the risk of relapse, they can sometimes be associated with some side effects. Tamoxifen, for instance, can lead to occurrence of annoying hot flashes.
The oncologist or registered nurse will examine your breasts and chest wall looking for possible abnormalities. During the exam, you will also be checked for presence of edema (abnormal accumulation of fluid) in the operated arm by measuring its diameter. Fortunately, this problem is becoming increasingly rare the fact breast cancer surgery has vastly improved. However, to limit the risk, it is recommended for patients not to lift or wear too heavy burden on the side of the operated arm. If an arm swelling is observed, lymphatic massages will be offered to you.
How to Address Psychological Effects of the Treatment
Your psychological well-being is another essential factor to be taken into consideration during and after the treatment. Cancer and its treatment can lead to serious psychological effects in some patients: please see Psychological Effects of Cancer section. Therefore, if you experience a feeling of emptiness or sadness, do not be surprised; it is common. For months you have struggled to undergo the treatment and face its side effects (please see Managing Cancer Treatment Side Effects ), it is not surprising that you feel helpless and exhausted physically and mentally. Do not hesitate to talk to your health care provider and support teams.
In fact during your breast cancer monitoring, certain sheets can be given to you intended to help you psychologically. In all cancer centers, specific consultations have been implemented and you can meet professionals (psychologist or psychotherapist) trained to listen and help you. This is also an opportunity to take advantage of your relationship with your partner and/or your relatives.
If you have a general practitioner, he can also be helpful to see him regularly in the aftermath of treatment. Generally more accessible than hospital oncologists, this specialist may receive you more frequently and respond more cooperatively to all your worries.
What Foods To Eat to Improve Your Mood and Strengthen your Immune System?
It is necessary to always talk tour nutritionist or health care provider before considering any new diet. Below is the list of some foods that are known to improve mood and strength the immune system. Some of them, such as bitter apricot kernels, chaga mushroom extract, moringa and walnuts, have anti-cancer properties:
Chaga mushroom extract
Dark Chocolate (dairy and sugar free)
Quinoa (avoid white rice and breads)
Lemon/Orange juice (homemade sweetened with honey)