Breast Cancer Recurrence: What You Should Know
When women quit breast cancer treatment early, they take a big risk.
Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Chances continued...
Low-Fat Diet: One large study showed that, with a strict low-fat
diet, a group of postmenopausal breast cancer survivors cut their recurrence
risk. The study involved more than 2,400 women, all with early breast cancer.
Those who cut their dietary fat from 29% to 19% of their total calories were
about 21% less likely to have a recurrence or die over the next six years,
compared with women who continued eating their typical foods.
Just remember, nothing is certain, Vogel says. "Just like taking pills,
a healthy lifestyle doesn't guarantee it won't recur. It may make it less
likely. But you have to be realistic about your expectations."
Follow-Up: Watching for Recurrence
Once treatment has ended, it's important to stay in contact with your
oncologist and surgeon.
Get Regular Exams. Oncologists typically follow patients every three
months during the first two years, then every six months after that. During
this time, women should have regular mammograms, even if they had a mastectomy,
Pay Attention to Your Body. When breast cancer returns, it will be
one of three types -- local, regional, or distant. A local recurrence in the
breast has "a high likelihood of cure," Vogel tells WebMD. But a
regional recurrence in the chest wall or skin -- or a distant metastasis in the
bones, brain, liver, or lungs -- becomes life-threatening.
It's important to watch for symptoms, says Pegram. "The most important
thing, be observant. Know your body, know what's normal for you. The symptoms
can be very subtle. If anything is out of the ordinary -- distinctly unusual
and won't go away with the usual over-the-counter remedies -- get it checked
Symptoms to watch for:
- A breast lump or skin changes, redness, nipple discharge
- Swollen lymph glands
- Unexplained bone pain or tenderness that does not go away. "We all have
aches and pains, but it's not everyday aches and pains I'm talking about,"
Pegram says. "This is unrelenting pain that keeps you awake at night, that
doesn't respond to analgesics [pain
medications], that is in the spine, skull, or ribs."
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin,
whites of the eyes)
- Breathing difficulty, a new cough, pain with breathing
- Persistent abdominal pain, weight loss, uterine bleeding
Don't Over-Think It
Your emotional well-being deserves top priority during this time. Finding
activities you enjoy can boost your mood and your self-confidence, and reduce
stress. If you exercise, you will get fitter and stronger -- plus reduce
"Don't worry incessantly," Pegram says. "It takes some judgment
and tincture of time to sort these things out, to know what's a symptom of
recurrence and what is not."
Vogel is optimistic. "Most people are going to do OK with breast cancer.
They get mammograms, get an early diagnosis, then follow their doctor's advice
on treatment. Most people are going to do fine, most won't die of breast
cancer. Remember, breast cancer mortality rates have been steadily going down
for the last decade -- steadily."