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Planning for life after breast cancer treatment

The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on September 21, 2021.

You might think that cancer survivorship begins after the treatment ends, but it actually begins with a diagnosis. Survivorship focuses on your overall health and well-being, and this includes everything from financial stability to emotional health.

Life after breast cancer treatment may be different than the life you had before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the many things you’ve always loved. The sooner you discuss life after treatment with your care team, the better prepared you may be to face the physical and emotional challenges of survivorship.

Creating a survivorship plan

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to life after breast cancer treatment, which is why a customized survivorship plan may help. You can always adjust the plan as you go, but having the roadmap is a critical first step.

Your plan may include:

  • A list of potential late or long-term side effects and symptoms
  • Recommended follow-up tests and screenings
  • A diet and exercise plan
  • Health insurance for follow-up care
  • Fertility/pregnancy resources
  • Mental health support
  • Sex and intimacy support
  • A guide on discussing your survivorship with loved ones
  • Financial planning

Potential long-term effects and late symptoms

Recovery is a lifelong process, especially for survivors. In the months and years following your treatment, you may face unexpected side effects. This doesn’t necessarily mean the cancer has returned, but some symptoms may require follow-up care, including a visit to your care team.

Possible long-term side effects of breast cancer treatment include:

  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in breast tissue
  • Fertility issues
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Distress or anxiety
  • Loss of bone density
  • Neuropathy

Preparation is key in recognizing these side effects. Talk to your care team about all of the possible side effects of your treatment so you can find ways to prevent or recognize them quickly and treat them effectively.

Follow-up health care

After-treatment care is just as important as during-treatment care, especially for breast cancer survivors.

  • Consider creating a follow-up schedule, which may include routine doctor visits, pelvic exams, mammograms, bone density tests, monitoring and more.
  • Keep a good record of all of your appointments, test results and follow-up care in your survivorship plan.
  • This plan can serve as a reference for you and all of your care members, including any doctors you may see for other conditions.

Financial planning

Cancer treatments can take a financial toll. Even when you’ve finished your breast cancer treatments, you’ll have to prepare for follow-up tests and potential treatment plans for other medical issues. A financial planner may be able help map out a budget and plan ahead.

Seven steps to take when transitioning back to work

In 2014, Karen R. was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. She was treated at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) with eight rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a lumpectomy and then six weeks of daily radiation therapy. Karen shares what worked for her to help manage the transition back to her career and life.

Karen-R-Breast

Good health guide

Many of these steps may begin before treatment, as well as continue afterward, because a healthy lifestyle is helpful for optimal physical and emotional health.

Diet

A healthy diet for breast cancer survivors should include an abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Try to limit or remove red meats, processed meats, foods with refined sugars and fats, as well as sugary drinks. Don’t smoke, and limit alcoholic beverages to one a day, if at all. While eating healthy foods and maintaining a healthy weight can be challenging, these choices can help reduce your risk of cancer recurrence and the formation of a new cancer.

Exercise

Physical activity can help with fatigue and other cancer treatment side effects. Daily walks, swimming or biking are good exercise options, but make sure you discuss your routine with your care team. They can guide you on the most appropriate activities.

Emotional health

Living with uncertainty and the fear of recurrence can be mentally draining. A mental health professional, especially one who specializes in coping with cancer survivorship, will have a unique understanding of what you’re going through and help you navigate the next chapter.

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