Follow-up care after breast cancer treatment

Published 17 Oct 2022 • By Claudia Lima

Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women.
It is now known that early diagnosis of breast cancer leads to a cure rate of almost 90% and reduces the mortality rate of this disease.
When treatment is finished, regular follow-up visits are organised for patients; this follow-up may last for several years, and is essential for patients' health.

What is the follow-up care after breast cancer treatment like? What does it involve? How long does it last? 

Read our article to find out!

Follow-up care after breast cancer treatment

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. However, both its incidence and mortality rate have been decreasing in recent years. 

When breast cancer is diagnosed, a treatment plan is set up. It may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or surgery.
As with all other cancers, the aim of the treatment is to achieve and maintain remission, i.e. a reduction in or disappearance of the symptoms of the disease. Remission is complete when no more cancer cells can be detected in the body. Cancer is considered cured when the duration of remission is declared sufficient.

At the end of these treatments, follow-up care is provided for each patient.

Why medical follow-up is recommended after breast cancer?  

Once breast cancer treatment is finally over, patients need regular monitoring visits for several years to ensure that cancer does not return.
This monitoring is carried out in order to: 

  • Detect the symptoms of a possible recurrence of breast cancer or the appearance of a new cancer in the same breast, in the other breast or in another area of the body, as early as possible
  • Detect and manage the possible late side effects of the treatment,
  • Do a complete health check-up and make sure you are up-to-date with your vaccinations (not possible during chemotherapy and targeted therapy until 6 months after the treatment),
  • Implement the necessary support care to restore and/or preserve the patient's quality of life as best as possible, managing physical and psychological consequences of cancer,
  • Facilitate social and professional reintegration.

How long does the follow-up care last for and who is it organised by? 

Depending on the type of cancer, the follow-up schedule is set up for a minimum of 5 years and can be continued for life. The follow-up schedule should be specified in an end-of-treatment report and given to the attending physician.

The attending physician and the referring medical team who carried out the treatment are responsible for this follow-up.

The attending physician adapts to each situation: the schedule can be modified, as the severity of the disease and the risks of recurrence differ from patient to patient.

Certain characteristics of cancer can be used to detect its recurrence risks. The risk factors for recurrence are quite numerous: age, tumour size, histology, cancer grade, etc.

What does the follow-up care for breast cancer patients include?  

In general, the follow-up care for breast cancer patients includes: 

  • A doctor's appointment every 6 months for 5 years, and then once a year for several years or for life, 
  • A mammogram once a year, combined with a breast ultrasound if necessary, 
  • A gynaecological exam once a year.

In case of abnormalities detected via medical imaging or in case of abnormal symptoms, additional examinations are prescribed. PET scans and breast scintigraphy are not necessary.

Women are advised to perform breast self-evaluation throughout their follow-up care as well as throughout all their lives.

There are women who are at high risk of recurrence: those who developed breast cancer before the age of 35 or those whose breast cancer has genetic mutations. A breast MRI should be performed every year.

During their appointments patients should discuss with their doctors any symptoms they may experience, as well as late side effects of their treatment, and their physical, emotional and psychological health. Depending on the difficulties encountered, the doctor may refer the patient to other specialists such as a psychologist, a physiotherapist, a sexologist and a social worker, among others.

How to have a proper follow-up care after breast cancer treatment?  

To ensure a proper follow-up care after breast cancer treatment, the patient is advised to follow certain recommendations, such as:

  • Scrupulously follow the prescribed treatment plan
  • Be sure to respect the rhythm of medical appointments and examinations established by the attending physician, your care team and other healthcare professionals, 
  • Do not hesitate to ask questions, take an active interest in your disease and your recovery, prepare for your appointments in advance,
  • Gather information about the disease, the treatments and the possible side effects to better understand them, 
  • Talk to your doctor about the symptoms of early menopause (hot flushes, vaginal dryness), certain treatments may be responsible for this, 
  • Report any new symptom that seems abnormal in order to detect a possible recurrence or side effects of treatments as early as possible, 
  • Identify and locate your pains so that they can be relieved faster and more efficiently.

What is life after breast cancer like?  

The recovery phase follows the cessation of treatment. The emotional impact of the disease is significant and patients may experience various consequences, such as anxiety, cognitive problems, fertility problems, low self-esteem, nutritional disorders, etc. 

The presence of family and friends is beneficial for the patient during this period, as psychological support is essential. New lifestyle habits must be introduced, as it is very important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to reduce the risks of recurrence. 

There are numerous patient support groups and associations for breast cancer patients: Breast Cancer Support, Breast Cancer UK, Breast Cancer Now, Pink Ribbon Foundation, Keeping Abreast, etc.

Breast cancer survival has improved significantly over the last few decades. This improvement is linked, on the one hand, to earlier diagnosis (screening policy, new diagnostic practices and techniques) and, on the other hand, to therapeutic progress of recent years.

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avatar Claudia Lima

Author: Claudia Lima, Health Writer

Claudia is a content creator at Carenity, specializing in health writing.

Claudia holds a master's degree in Entrepreneurship and an Executive MBA in Sales and Marketing Management. She is specialized in... >> Learn more

Who reviewed it: Hela Ammar, Pharmacist, data scientist

Hela is a PharmD and holds a master's degree in Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Management from ESCP Business School. Through her various experiences, Hela has acquired a transversal vision of the health field and... >> Learn more

1 comment

on 20/10/2022

Four yrs ago I had a really bad chest infection,I was sent for a chest x-ray by my medical practitioner,after I had my x-ray they told me that I was to go to see the breast cancer clinic ,so I was sent a appointment,there I had to go for a mammogram on each breast I was then sent to a room where the did a ultra sonic sound ,o each breast which showed two lumps one on each breast on the right side they could drain but the left breast they took a biopsy ,I was absolutely petrified,then I was told that they would send the biopsy for testing I had to wait a couple of wks to get my results in those two weeks I was so upset as I didn't know why ,after waiting I was sent another appointment to see a breast surgeon there I was told that I had breast cancer and it was malignant,he then told me that I could have the lump removed and save my breast but there was a chance of it returning,or I could have a mastectomy and completely have the breast removed ,and it not returning so I decided I was going to have it removed completely,he said I didn't need chemo but I had to have radiotherapy for six weeks ,this was so worrying,as I had to tell my family ,it absolutely broke there hearts it was the hardest thing to do ,the following week I had to have my heart checked to see if I was ok to have the op ,after all this I was given a date for my op ,my husband took me in I was sent to a day ward to wait for a bed all the time was there I was really scared ,but the nurses were fabulous,when it was time to have my op I had to have a tracer put in which a needle was inserted in my nipple it was really scary the nurse held my hand it stung for a second then I couldn't feel anything I was then taken to the theatre,that was 3.30 ,in the afternoon,I got back to the ward a 7.30 ,when I woke up I was in a beautiful room I had to have a drain in which had to be emptied,the next day I was allowed home ,there I had to wait a few weeks to get this removed ,and then start my radiotherapy,I lived in Skegness but had to travel to Lincoln radiology dept at 7.30 so had to leave the house before 6 to get there on time ,then see a radiologist which she explained what they were going to do it was really frightening,they laid me on a table but because my cancer was under my breast bone and very close to my heart they had to be very careful and precise.they placed artificial skin across my chest made sure measurements were precise ,then did two boosters to start then the next four weeks they did the same I was very badly burnt but they gave me some oil to help but it was so painful my PTSD low moods depression was worst but I then had anxiety on top on the last day of my treatment I had another two boosters after I had finished with my radiotherapy I was told to ring the bell I did everyone in the waiting area all clapped it was a really scary time because treatment had finished apart from taking hormone therapy,the following week I was given another appointment which I was told that my cancer was gone but I had to wait 9yrs for the absolute all clear they started me on Letrazole ,but that made my osteoporosis brittle bones worse so then I was given Anastrazole ,I had to take this for 5 yrs still had to use my cream for my skin ,then I was told that my asthma had got worse so now I had angina low blood flow to my heart and my asthma had got worse leaving me with COPD emphysema,but I have lymphoedema in my arm and hand on my left side but I do have osteoporosis arthritis brittle bones,as well so far I have been clear for 4yrs next yr my hormone therapy stops and that does scare me of it coming back I have helped support cancer research,I do support breast cancer now ,and Marie curie as cancer plays a large part in my family my mum ,died of lung cancer ,my daughter has had skin cancer twice ,and I have lost so many of my family to cancer ,this is my cancer story so please if you see anything different in your breasts then please check it doesn't matter how big or small have mammograms it's not only women it's men as well please check yourself regularly Tigger

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