By the staff at Franciscan Health
Facing and beating breast cancer can make you a stronger person – and may even change your life forever. Jamie Murphy, MD, breast surgeon at Franciscan Health Indianapolis, provides information on what to expect after breast cancer treatment and tips for coping with any ongoing effects.
What are lingering challenges breast cancer survivors face?
Even after successful treatment, survivors may experience lingering physical and emotional side effects. Breast cancer survivors may experience physical changes, cognitive (thinking) changes and nutritional imbalance.
Added to these potential side effects, cancer survivors must also be vigilant about screening for a recurrence and the possible development of other cancers.
What are the physical side effects of breast cancer?
Even after successful treatment, survivors may experience lingering physical side effects such as fatigue, pain or lymphedema (swelling in the arm or hand). These side effects can impact your quality of life and may require ongoing care to relieve their impact.
What are the emotional impacts of breast cancer?
The emotional toll of having faced a life-threatening disease can be significant. Many survivors experience anxiety, depression and fear around recurrence. Dr. Murphy suggests breast cancer survivors seek out support groups where solace and comradery with others can take place. Talking with women who are 5 to 10 years out from treatment and have gone on to live full lives can help ease fears.
What cognitive changes can occur after cancer treatment?
Many cancer survivors have heard the phrase “chemo brain.” Some survivors will experience changes in their memory, attention and ability to think clearly. Although these can be frustrating, you can take steps to lessen their impact, including talking with your provider, memory exercises, mindfulness practices, physical exercise and getting plenty of sleep.
What nutritional changes can occur after cancer treatment?
Maintaining a balanced diet is important, especially if you’ve developed sensitivities or an intolerance to certain foods during treatment. Probiotics and prebiotics may help restore gut health, especially if you’ve been on antibiotics or experienced nutritional challenges as a side effect of cancer treatment.
What are the signs of lymphedema in breast cancer survivors?
Lymphedema in the arm and hand can occur on the side treated for breast cancer. The first signs of lymphedema are often numbness or tingling in the fingers or hand. Another common early sign is noticing your rings aren’t fitting like they usually do.
What are the treatments for lymphedema?
If you’re experiencing lymphedema, talking with your provider is important.
“One key to treating lymphedema is early identification and early therapy,” said Dr. Murphy. “A physical therapist can work with you on specific exercises like manual lymphatic drainage (specialized treatment to encourage the flow of lymph fluid), wearing a compression sleeve to reduce swelling, gentle physical exercises, elevating the arm to help with lymph drainage and other strategies.”
4 tips to stay healthy after breast cancer treatment
Navigating life after breast cancer treatment can be filled with challenges and opportunities. It’s not just about monitoring for recurrence but also about taking steps to improve your overall well-being. Here are four tips to help you stay healthy and thrive.
- Stay vigilant with regular monitoring.
It’s important to conduct a monthly self-breast exam to identify if any changes have occurred in the breast. As a breast cancer survivor, you’ll likely continue to follow up with your breast surgeon or oncologist every six months for the first two years post-treatment and then annually after that. During these follow-up visits, your provider will discuss any changes in your breasts, closely examine your breasts and talk with you about how you’re feeling and coping with life after treatment.
- Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet.
Nutrition rich in antioxidants, like berries, leafy greens and fish, is nutritious and can help reduce inflammation in the body. Dr. Murphy stresses the importance of eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy body weight.
“We know that breast cancer is strongly associated with increased estrogen exposure,” she said. “The more fat on your body, the more estrogen your body produces.”
- Integrate exercise and mind-body practices.
Incorporating exercises and techniques like Tai Chi or deep-breathing exercises can improve your physical and mental well-being. It’s known to reduce stress and improve balance and flexibility.
- Limit alcohol and avoid smoking.
Alcohol and smoking are both linked to a higher risk of cancer. Limiting alcohol to moderate levels or eliminating it entirely, along with avoiding tobacco products, can significantly reduce the risk of recurrence.
Learn about Franciscan Health breast cancer support
If you’re undergoing treatment or have completed breast cancer treatment, resources are available to help you. Get details on our breast cancer support services.