BREAST CANCER SURVIVORS
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FAQs After Treatment

What Happens Now?

Every cancer survivor should request a comprehensive care summary and follow-up plan from their doctor once they complete their treatment. Patients should ask their doctor the following questions once cancer treatment ends. The answers can help inform the patient about their care and what to expect next.

  • What treatments and drugs have I been given?
  • How often should I have a routine visit?
  • Which doctor should I see for my follow-up cancer care?
  • What are the chances that my cancer will come back or that I will get another type of cancer?
  • What follow-up tests, if any, should I have?
  • How often will I need these tests?
  • What symptoms should I watch for?
  • If I develop any of these symptoms, whom should I call?
  • What are the common long-term and late effects of the treatment I received?
  • What should I do to maintain my health and well-being?
  • Will I have trouble getting health insurance or keeping a job because of my cancer?
  • Are there support groups I can turn to?

Many patients find it helpful to write these questions down and take notes or tape record their discussions with the doctor to refer to at a later time.

What should I discuss with my doctor at a follow-up?

During each visit, patients should tell their doctor about:

  • Any symptoms that they think may be a sign that their cancer has returned.
  • Any pain that bothers them.
  • Any physical problems that interfere with daily life or are bothersome, such as fatigue; difficulty with bladder, bowel, or sexual function; difficulty concentrating; memory changes; trouble sleeping; and weight gain or loss.
  • Any medicines,vitamins, or herbs they are taking and any other treatments they are using.
  • Any emotional problems they are experiencing, such as anxiety or depression.
  • Any changes in their family medical history, including any new cancers.

It is important to note that cancer recurrences are not always detected during follow-up visits. Many times, recurrences are suspected or found by patients themselves between scheduled checkups. It is important for patients to be aware of changes in their health and report any problems to their doctor. The doctor can determine whether the problems are related to the cancer, the treatment the patient received, or an unrelated health issue.

Are there resources for breast cancer survivors?

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), a nonprofit organization that represents more than 27,000 cancer professionals worldwide, has published information summaries for patients based on the ASCO Clinical Practice Guidelines for health care providers. The patient summaries provide information on a variety of cancer topics, including follow-up care for breast and colorectal cancer. These guidelines, called What to Know: ASCO's Guidelines, are available on ASCO's Cancer.Net Web site at http://www.cancer.net/patient/ASCO+Resources/What+to+Know%3A+ASCO%27s+Guidelines on the Internet.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), which is also a nonprofit organization, is an alliance of cancer centers. The NCCN has a consumer Web site called NCCN.com. This Web site includes information about follow-up care for cancer, along with guidance on making formal survivorship plans. The Life Beyond Cancer: Follow-Up Care After Cancer Web page is available at http://www.nccn.com/Life-Beyond-Cancer/WellnessArticles.aspx?id=486 on the Internet.

The Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition has a number of printed resources and videos available, as well. These include the National Cancer Institute's "Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment" and the video "Moving Beyond Breast Cancer." These publications are also availabe free of charge from NCI at www.cancer.gov and select NCI Publications.

How can I get more involved in the fight against breast cancer?

The Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition has many opportunities for volunteers including our peer mentor program for breast cancer survivors. Find out more about our volunteer opportunities here. If you're looking to get more involved as a breast cancer advocate, consider joining the National Breast Cancer Coalition. The National Breast Cancer Coalition's trained advocates have lobbied at the national, state and local levels for public policies that impact breast cancer research, diagnosis and treatment. Our grassroots advocacy effort has hundreds of member organizations and tens of thousands of individual members working toward increased federal funding for breast cancer research and collaborating with the scientific community to implement new models of research, improving access to high-quality health care and breast cancer clinical trials for all women, and expanding the influence of breast cancer advocates in all aspects of the breast cancer decision making process.

The Coalition's sister organization, the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund, empowers and trains these advocates to be effective in every aspect of the fight to end breast cancer. We give women the tools to make their own informed decisions and take a leadership role with legislative, scientific and clinical decision makers. NBCC also helps guide the public through the maze of information on breast cancer.