Although most media focuses on the initial struggle to defeat breast cancer, the life of survivors can be just as difficult. In response to this, two major cancer organizations – the American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology – have issued a set of guidelines for follow-up treatment and post-battle behavior for breast cancer survivors.
One of the most important instructions put in place involves the regular monitoring of patients to ascertain if any cancerous cells have reemerged. Monitoring can in include evaluation of personal and family cancer histories, physical examinations, and screenings for breast cancer. If a patient shows no symptoms, medical imaging or scans are not considered necessary.
The protocols are aimed at the ” 3.1 million breast cancer survivors who are alive in the United States today,” said Dr. Eleonora Teplinsky, a medical oncologist with North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute in Lake Success, N.Y. “Survivorship is defined as living with, through and beyond cancer, and each of these phases comes with unique concerns and challenges.”
The new parameters also give doctors detailed recommendations on how to ensure survivors lead healthy lifestyles – both mentally and physically. A breast cancer survivor often faces a number of issues including fatigue, memory problems, cloudy thinking, and body image worries. They may also struggle to coordinate proper care.
“Breast cancer survivors face potentially significant impacts of cancer and its treatment, and deserve high-quality, comprehensive, coordinated clinical follow-up care,” said the directive. “Primary care clinicians must consider each patient’s individual risk profile and preferences of care to address physical and psychosocial impacts.”
Additionally, primary care doctors must ensure that patients are adhering to endocrine therapy, that is, hormonal treatments designed to keep the cancer at bay, such as tamoxifen.
There is no silver bullet for caring for breast cancer survivors. However, the guidelines aim to provide clear parameters of treatment and care in order to better help “create a more uniform plan of action for breast cancer patients,” said Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “One must remember, however, that there may be times to deviate from the norm and methods of surveillance need to be discussed with a patient’s doctor, as well.”