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Life After Breast Cancer: What to Expect When Treatment Ends

One day you’re in active treatment for breast cancer, and the next you’re not. You might feel an immediate sense of relief and gratitude that you’re still here and the worst may be over.

At the same time, side effects from treatment are still with you. Healing takes time. And because there’s a risk of recurrence, medical appointments still populate your calendar. You may have expected to feel “normal” at this point, but it’s not happening. Not physically and not emotionally.

Because the initial focus is on treatment, the aftereffects can come as quite a shock. You may worry about living up to your own expectations and the expectations of others. If you’re stuck in a foggy gray zone after completing treatment for breast cancer, you’re far from alone.

While everyone’s experiences are different, this article will cover some common challenges of life after breast cancer.

Lasting physical effects of treatment

Depending on factors such as the type of breast cancer and stage, your treatment may have involved:

  • one or more surgeries
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • hormone or targeted therapies

Each of these comes with its own set of potential short- and long-term side effects.

Dr. Yuri Fesko is an oncologist and senior medical director of oncology and pharma services at Quest Diagnostics. He told Healthline that side effects can develop months or even years after treatment ends.

“What side effects patients experience can depend on the type of treatment they received,” he says.

According to Fesko, some common crossover effects after breast cancer treatment include:

  • fatigue
  • changes in the look and feel of the breast after surgery
  • joint and muscle pain
  • loss of bone density
  • early menopause or menopausal symptoms
  • infertility
  • low sex drive
  • weight gain

“It is worth noting that each patient’s experience is unique, so even if two individuals share the same diagnosis and received the same treatment, how their bodies cope and the side effects they experience or are impacted by can be completely different,” says Fesko.

Survivorship planning

Fesko recommends developing a survivorship plan with your care team that includes:

  • information on your treatment, including specific diagnosis and tumor characteristics
  • treatment specifics
  • any ongoing monitoring (screening and diagnostics)
  • potential late side effects
  • follow-up care guidelines
  • support services

“Understanding the potential effects of treatment and knowing what to do about them can help ease anxiety,” explains Fesko.

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