When active breast cancer treatment is over, you enter a new phase and will see your health care team less often. Yet the health 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 became smaller because you do not require active, hospital-based treatment. Your family doctor or nurse practitioner may become the primary person who is responsible for coordinating your care. When your active treatment ends, this is an opportunity to discuss your follow-up care with your health care provider.
Regular health check-ups
It is recommended that women who have had breast cancer visit their health care provider for a check-up every three to six months for the first three years after active treatment has been completed, then every 6 to 12 months for the next two years and once a year after five years.
Your follow-up care will usually include a schedule for regular clinical breast examinations and screening mammograms 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 requiring 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 disappear within a week or so.
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. Remember that no question is trivial or stupid.
- 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. You may also wish to make some healthier changes to your lifestyle to take care of yourself and to try to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.