Life after breast cancer treatment

You’re finally done with your breast cancer treatment. It’s a relief and a time to rejoice. You may expect your life to go back to the way it was before, but instead of returning to your old normal, you may have to adjust to a new one.

With today’s advanced treatment and early detection, breast cancer survivors can live a long and full life after breast cancer treatment. It’s estimated that there are 3.9 million breast cancer survivors in the US.

Whether you had surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormone therapy, though, your body still needs time to heal.

Quality of life

For some people, surviving breast cancer may result in a positive change. You may make healthy changes to your lifestyle and diet, such as exercising more and eating healthier. Your actions may also encourage friends and family to live healthier.

Some breast cancer survivors undergo spiritual or personal growth. You may feel personal empowerment after having beaten cancer and that you have a newfound confidence to help you achieve your goals.

You may also find purpose in breast cancer advocacy. Advocacy can help improve breast cancer research, funding, and awareness.

Joining support groups, meanwhile, lets you gain new friendships. These are connections you may not have made otherwise.

Side effects of breast cancer treatment

Your treatment is over, but you may still have some physical side effects, like hair loss from chemotherapy. You may also have body image issues after breast cancer surgery.

You may also experience long-term effects from your cancer treatment. Side effects vary from person to person. Some of these include:

Fatigue

Feeling worn out or tired is a common complaint in the first year of recovery. Some ways to cope with your fatigue include:

  • Asking for help or letting others help you. Friends and family may be willing to help but may not know what to do.
  • Trying to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Taking breaks or short naps between activities.
  • Planning your activities around the time of day when you’re most energetic.

Chemo brain or brain fog

“Chemo brain” is a term used to describe the memory and thinking problems that can happen during and after chemotherapy treatment. As many as 75% of cancer patients experience “chemo brain” during their treatment.

About one-third continue to have problems after treatment. Chemo brain may go away 6 to 9 months after treatment, but for some people, it may last for years.

Fertility

Radiation and hormone therapy, as well as chemotherapy, may have an effect on your reproductive system and fertility:

Some chemotherapy drugs can stop your regular menstrual periods (amenorrhea). In a study of 1,043 female cancer survivors aged 20 to 35, 31.6% had amenorrhea. Within two years of treatment, though, most of them (70%), resumed their periods.

Women who were over 30 years old when diagnosed with cancer are more likely to have irregular periods after their temporary amenorrhea. This may be a sign of ovary damage or early menopause (perimenopause).

If you plan to have children after treatment, talk to your doctor and a fertility specialist about your options. You may want to store your eggs before breast cancer treatment. After treatment, the eggs can be implanted into your uterus.

Some drugs may protect your ovaries from chemotherapy damage and help you preserve your fertility. These include goserelin, leuprolide, and triptorelin.

QUESTION

A lump in the breast is almost always cancer. See Answer

Lower your risk of cancer recurrence

Recurrence is often a worry for cancer survivors. You can’t control whether or not your cancer returns, but you can try to stay physically and mentally healthy to reduce your chances of breast cancer recurrence. Here are some things that may help:

Taking care of your emotional needs

Fear of cancer recurrence is common among survivors. Talk to your doctors about your fears and worries. They may be able to recommend ways of managing your anxiety. Some things that have been helpful for cancer survivors include:

Taking care of your body

Take care of your physical health with:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Balancing your diet
  • Stopping smoking
  • Limiting your alcohol
  • Reducing stress
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Regular health screenings

Besides mamograms, you should be up to date on:

Reduce your stress

The transition from breast cancer patient to survivor can be difficult for many. You may have many different concerns and fears which cause you stress and anxiety. Some ways to manage your stress include:

  • Journaling
  • Yoga
  • Meditation and deep breathing
  • Support groups
  • Exercise
  • Therapy
  • Find new connections or hobbies

If you find that the stress is becoming overwhelming, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/2/2021
References
Cedars Sinai: "What Is Chemo Brain?"

Current Treatments Options in Oncology: "Maintaining Fertility in Young Women with Breast Cancer."

Fertility and Sterility: "Menses resumption after cancer treatment-induced amenorrhea occurs early or not at all."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Reducing Risk of Recurrence."

Journal of Education and Health Promotion: "Positive changes after breast cancer: A qualitative study."

Moffitt Cancer Center: "Five Questions About Life After Breast Cancer With Dr. Hoover."

National Cancer Institute: "Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment."

National Cancer Institute: "Helping Cancer Survivors Cope with Cancer-Related Anxiety and Distress."

Susan G. Komen: "Quality of Life After Breast Cancer Treatment," "Unique Issues for Young Women with Breast Cancer."