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Breast Cancer: Recovery

Jessica Evert, MD, edited by Benjamin McDonald, MD

Given early identification and proper treatment, the majority of breast cancer cases are cured. However, once you have had a previous bout with breast cancer your chance of having the disease return are increased compared with people who never had the disease. The odds of a recurrence are further raised if the initial cancer had started to spread to the lymph nodes under the arm before treatment began. Given the heightened risk, prevention of recurrence is very important for individuals who have had breast cancer. It is very important that cancer survivors heed the warnings signs of breast cancer and monitor themselves for cancer risk factors on a regular and ongoing basis. A critical part of this monitoring process involves regular breast self-screening which should be performed often to ensure that another tumor does not get the chance to form undetected. For more information on self-screening, please refer to the topic heading Breast Cancer: Self-Examination above). Your doctor may also recommend that you increase the frequency of mammograms to screen for new tumors.

Women who have undergone mastectomy will have endured a profound injury both to their physical body and their psychological body image. They can expect to go through a period of mourning and loss during which they may feel depressed, unattractive or less sexual. Recovery from this state is possible and many women have endured the ordeal and have re-emerged with improved self-esteem and strength. It is helpful to seek out emotional support from friends and family members, religious groups, therapists, and cancer support groups.