The thought of cancer recurrence is a scary one, and no matter what treatment path lies ahead of you, even when your doctor says you’ve beaten it, there is still this gnawing dread that it could come back. Regularly monitoring your health and being vigilant about visits and treatment regimens is important in identifying and combating any breast cancer recurrence.
Why Check for Recurrence?
When your health care provider declares that you are cancer free, it’s a great relief. However, even when you’ve won the war, checkups on a regular basis are necessary, as even individuals who have opted to go with a double mastectomy to get rid of all traces of the cancer have a risk of recurrence. Naturally, the earlier you can identify the signs of recurrence, the sooner your health care provider and you can develop a plan of attack to hopefully beat it completely. Here are some steps you can take to check for recurrence.
- See Your Doctor Regularly
Your doctor will probably want to see you regularly even when the cancer is gone. You may have a yearly scan as well as a mammogram set up. Tests such as Breast Cancer Index can help you determine whether hormone therapy is necessary, and patients undergoing hormone therapy will have regular checkups for at least five years. The doctor will examine you and interview you to find out how treatment is going and how you are feeling. Be open and honest about everything so that the health care provider can provide helpful suggestions based on your prognosis.
- Perform Regular Self-Exams
It is important to perform regular monthly exams on yourself to identify any abnormal areas. A recurrence can be something as simple as a change in shape, size, or contour of a breast. A lump, thickening, marble-like area, or change in appearance of the breast or nipple can all indicate a recurrence, as can clear fluid or blood coming from the nipple.
- Be Conscious of Change in Symptoms
Sometimes the symptoms of a recurrence aren’t relegated to a change in the breasts. Any new symptoms including weight loss, headaches, or pain could be cancer related. Do not panic, as these symptoms don’t necessarily mean that the cancer has returned. However, be attentive to how you feel and notice any changes that you experience, and make sure to report these to your health care provider.
What Happens If There Is a Recurrence?
There are many different factors that affect the risk of breast cancer recurrence. High histologic and nuclear grades in the initial cancer have higher risk of recurrence. If the cancer does come back, your doctor will go over a treatment plan with you. Treatment options depend on the type of recurrence and the treatment completed the first time around. Surgery, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation are common for recurrence treatment.
It can be very trying to hear that your breast cancer has returned, but it is important to stay positive. You are not alone in your battle, and there are support groups to help you through. Communicate openly with your doctor, family, and friends about your needs and concerns, and reach out to support groups where possible.