For breast cancer survivors, seeing your doctor for follow-up care is important. Whether it is every three, six, or twelve months, your doctor’s visit will help maintain your health in more ways than just one.
Here are answers to some common questions you may have.
Why is follow-up care important?
After breast cancer treatment(s), visiting your doctor for follow-up care is important to maintain good health. Your doctor is able to utilize these appointments to identify changes in your health. They are also able to manage any side effects you are dealing with after treatment.
They can watch for signs that the cancer has come back or screen for other types of cancer. Often included in these follow-up appointments are physical examinations and other medical tests to monitor your recovery.
What should patients tell their doctor during this appointment?
It is crucial to communicate with your doctor about any health concerns.
During each visit, talk to your doctor about:
- Any symptoms you think may be a sign that cancer has returned
- If you are experiencing any pain
- Medications, herbs, and vitamins you may be on
- Physical changes, such as fatigue, memory changes, weight loss or gain, and difficulty with bowel movements
- Your emotional well-being, such as experiencing depression or anxiety
- Any changes to your family medical history
What are some signs of a breast cancer recurrence?
It is important to understand that cancer recurrences are not always detected during your follow-up appointments. Many women will detect recurrences themselves between their scheduled check-ups.
Tell your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- A lump
- A rash or skin changes
- Pain in the breast, chest wall, or arm pits
- Changes in the shape or size of your breast
- Bone pain
- Changes in vision
- A decreased energy level
- A poor appetite
What tests might the doctor run?
Doctors may use various tests to learn more about your physical health and well-being. Some of these tests are not necessarily designed to detect cancer, but can assist the doctor in learning about your medical symptoms and side effects you are experiencing.
- A complete blood count test
- Bone scan
- Liver and kidney function tests
What can be some long-term side effects?
It’s important to discuss with your doctor if you believe you are experiencing side effects from your treatment. Your doctor will be able to screen and monitor for side effects during your follow-up appointment.
- Lymphedema – swelling of the arms
- Hot flashes and menopause
- Depression and anxiety
- Heart problems
- Bone health
- Fertility problems
- Sexual health
- Cognitive changes
Are there medical records to keep?
Keeping a copy of your medical records can be essential to your care. Patients may not always see the same doctor, be sent to a specialist, or need to review their own records to answer questions. It is important to keep the following information:
- Diagnostic testing results
- Cancer diagnosis
- Date(s) of the diagnosis
- Treatment details, including the place and dates of treatment, surgeries, and doctor names
- Prescribed drug names and dosages
- Doctor contact information
- Comprehensive care summary
- Treatment plan – both short and long term
What are some questions to ask the doctor?
Every cancer survivor should be open to asking their doctor questions. You can learn more about your follow-up care by asking:
- What is my risk of recurrence?
- What tests do I need?
- What symptoms should I watch out for?
- What treatments and drugs will I be given? What are the side effects?
- How often should I schedule my follow-up care appointments?
- What are some ways I can maintain my health and well-being?
- How can I contact you if I have questions?
What does all of this mean?
It is not uncommon for women to feel worry, anxiety, and stress at the prospects of visiting with their doctor after receiving cancer treatments. Follow-up appointments are utilized to not only maintain good health, but can provide reassurance and to dissolve those worries. It is important to keep regularly scheduled follow-up appointments to discuss your symptoms and concerns with your doctor.
Angela Banker is a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a sister; she is also a young survivor, a caregiver, a supporter, and a fighter. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33, and found herself empowered to share her story to raise awareness about breast cancer. Angela participates in Relay For Life, started the Sisters Beating Breast Cancer page to inspire others, and continues to "fight like a girl" with the hope that her daughter will never have to hear the dreaded words, "You have cancer."