Breast Cancer: Early Detection and Treatment Key to Survival
As terrifying as it used to sound, Breast Cancer is no longer as dreadful as it was several years ago. It’s still a serious disease but thanks to improvements in cancer treatments, millions of women are surviving breast cancer today.
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If you or one of your loved ones has breast cancer, here are few things to expect and look for after treatment.
When treatment ends, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. It is very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask questions about any problems you may have and may do exams and lab tests or x-rays and scans to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks to months, but others can last the rest of your life. This is the time for you to talk to your cancer care team about any changes or problems you notice and any questions or concerns you have.
At first, your follow-up appointments will probably be scheduled for every 3 to 6 months. The longer you have been free of cancer, the less often the appointments are needed. After 5 years, they are typically done about once a year. If you had breast-conserving surgery, you will get a mammogram about 6 months after surgery and radiation are complete, and then every year. Women who had a mastectomy should continue to have yearly mammograms on the remaining breast.
If you are taking tamoxifen or toremifene, you should have pelvic exams every year because these drugs can increase your risk of uterine cancer. This risk is highest in women who have gone through menopause. Be sure to tell your doctor right away about any abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as vaginal bleeding or spotting after menopause, bleeding or spotting between periods, or a change in your periods. Although this is usually caused by a non-cancerous condition, it can also be the first sign of uterine cancer.
If you are taking an aromatase inhibitor or are pre-menopausal taking tamoxifen or toremifene, your doctor will want to monitor your bone health and may consider testing your bone density.
If symptoms, exams, or tests suggest a recurrence, imaging tests such as an x-ray, CT scan, PET scan, MRI scan, bone scan, and/or a biopsy may be done. Your doctor may also measure levels of blood tumor markers such as CA-15-3, CA 27-29, or CEA. The blood levels of these substances go up in some women if their cancer has spread to bones or other organs such as the liver. They are not elevated in all women with recurrence, so they aren't always helpful. If they are elevated, your doctor might use them to monitor the results of therapy.