Breast cancer survivorship 101

By: Heather Casper-McLay, CNP .

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Who is a breast cancer survivor?

The National Cancer Institute says a person is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis through the balance of his or her life. Family members, friends and caregivers are also impacted by the survivorship experience and are therefore included in this definition.

What happens after treatment is over?

Even after you’re finished your cancer treatments, your cancer care team will want to watch you closely, so these follow-up visits are very important. These visits can include medical oncology, radiation oncology, surgery or gynecology. You will also likely need additional imaging such as mammograms, MRIs or DEXA scans.

Will medication be required after treatment?

In many cases, yes. You may be prescribed medications such as tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors for hormone therapy as well as calcium and vitamin D. It is crucial that you take any recommended medications or supplements regularly.

Are self-exams still helpful after cancer? 

Yes. Self-exams are not only important to perform before a diagnosis; they are equally as important after cancer treatment. Don’t forget to continue regular self-breast and chest-wall exams at home.

What is the ideal cancer survivor lifestyle?

Cancer survivors should adopt healthy lifestyle choices for their overall general health as well as to help prevent their cancer from returning:

  • To promote strong, healthy bones, eat calcium-rich foods and incorporate weight-bearing activities.
  • Try to eat five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables every day, and limit red meat.
  • Participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, five days a week.
  • Limit alcohol to one drink per day (for women) and two drinks per day (for men).
  • Stop smoking.
  • Use sunscreen.