After finding out you have breast cancer, you may feel shocked, upset, anxious or confused. These are normal responses.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women (after non-melanoma skin cancer). Although rare, breast cancer can also affect men. Early breast cancer can be treated successfully and for most people, breast cancer will not come back after treatment. Read more about what to expect after a new diagnosis of breast cancer.
Most women diagnosed with early breast cancer will be referred to a surgeon and offered breast cancer surgery. After surgery, many women will be seen by a medical oncologist to discuss whether further treatment is needed. You will usually have your first visit with your medical oncologist shortly (within 2-3 weeks) after your breast cancer surgery.
Additional treatment options that might be discussed include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and anti-HER2 therapy. Nearly all women feel confused by the difficult treatment decisions they must make. If you are feeling overwhelmed, keep in mind that you don't have to make any fast decisions. It is fine to take a little time and think about what feels right for you. If you do start to feel distressed, try to slow down and take things one step at a time. Ask for more information if you need it. Read more about possible treatment options after breast cancer surgery.
After additional treatment is completed, you will enter a new phase of your life and care. You might find yourself facing new issues and concerns, perhaps feeling more alone, because in the eyes of your support system, you have completed treatment and are back to normal.
However, regaining a sense of balance and feeling 'normal' again after treatment can be as challenging as the disease itself. The reality for a majority of patients is there are a number of short and long term physical, psychological and emotional effects to cope with following treatment for breast cancer.
Every survivor has individual concerns and challenges. You may experience a mixture of strong feelings, including joy, concern, relief, guilt and fear. Some people say they appreciate life more after a cancer diagnosis and have gained a greater acceptance of themselves. Others become very anxious about their health and are uncertain about coping with everyday life.
During follow-up appointments, other than monitoring for breast cancer recurrence, focus will also be on optimizing your health and well-being, and recognizing the specific issues at the end of active treatment to support you to live well. Read more about breast cancer survivorship.
For some women, breast cancer may come back after treatment - sometimes years later. This is called recurrence. Recurrence can be local (in the same breast or in the surgery scar), regional (in nearby lymph nodes), or in a distant area. Cancer that is found in the opposite breast without any cancer elsewhere in the body is not a recurrence - it is a new cancer that requires its own treatment.
If breast cancer comes back, it is often more frightening than the first time it was diagnosed.Remember it is not your fault. You did nothing to cause the breast cancer to come back.
During surgery to remove breast cancer, the surgeon removes all the cancer that can be seen and felt. But the tests that we have for cancer are not sensitive enough to detect tiny groups of cancer cells that may be left over after surgery. It is possible for small groups of cells to survive radiation therapy and chemotherapy aimed at reducing the risk of recurrence. Even a single cell that escaped treatment may be able to multiply and grow into a tumour. Read more about recurrent breast cancer.
When breast cancer comes back in other areas of the body, it is called 'metastatic'. Metastatic breast cancer is stage 4 breast cancer.Metastatic breast cancer is also called secondary breast cancer or advanced breast cancer. There are many words used but they actually mean the same thing.
Treatment for breast cancer is stressful and can be very difficult. If the cancer returns, it is common to have a strong emotional response. Remember that you are not alone. If you are facing breast cancer recurrence, remember there are many people who have been where you are today. They had the same fears and made the same tough choices. A support group of others who are in a similar situation as you might help.
Although metastatic breast cancer has spread to another part of the body, it is considered and treated as breast cancer. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the bones is still breast cancer (not bone cancer) and is treated with breast cancer drugs rather than treatments for cancer that began in the bones.
Sometimes people are found to have metastatic breast cancer at their first diagnosis of breast cancer. This is called 'de novo' metastatic breast cancer. It is more common for metastatic breast cancer to occur months or years (sometimes more than 20 years) after a person has completed treatment for early breast cancer.
Keep in mind that there is still HOPE with metastatic disease. Many people continue to live long, productive lives with Stage 4 breast cancer. There are many treatment options and new medicines are being studied every day. More and more people are living life to the fullest while being treated for metastatic breast cancer. Read more about metastatic breast cancer.
Do your have breast cancer? Go to our Breast Cancer section. If you have any questions or want to make an appointment, email us or call us on (07)3859 0690.
Medical information disclaimer
The medical information provided is correct to the best of our knowledge, but no warranty as to accuracy is given. You must not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor.
If you have any concerns about your health, you should seek immediate medical attention.