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Women's Health
Breast Cancer

What are the long-term effects of breast cancer?


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August 28, 2014 11:49PM

The effects of breast cancer may include both physical and psychological factors. Since most people ask about breast cancer in women rather than in men, I'll stay with that viewpoint.Among the variables that bear on the effects of breast cancer are how old the patient is when the cancer is diagnosed and treated; how early it is treated -- the stage; the kind of treatment; whether or not there is a recurrence; whether the breast cancer shows up in other parts of the body (yes, you can have "breast" cancer in organs and locations other than the breast); the family status of the patient (married? with children? with extended family support?); the patient's general outlook and ability to cope with serious illness. And sheer luck!There are other variables, but you can see how complex is the question that you asked. If we have, for example, a post-menopausal woman who has discovered a lump early and who needs only a lumpectomy, with no chemo and no radiation, the effects might be minimal: proven-effective medication that has no unpleasant side effects (there are new medications on the shelves and in clinical trials); regular mammograms; regular medical consultation; breast self-examinations -- and that may be the end of the problem.On the other hand, if we have a young woman is pregnant with her third child, whose first children are pre-schoolers, and whose cancer indicates mastectomy, chemo, and radiation, we are looking at a different constellation of variables to deal with.Similarly, if the woman is young and has no children but needs treatment that may either compromise or prevent her future pregnancies, who feels that she can live with that loss, but whose husband is devastated by the thought that he may never be a father, that's a different picture of "long-term effects."Scenario after scenario, the long-term effects will differ.In general, to minimize unpleasant long-term effects, follow the procedures that every woman knows to detect the cancer early. If cancer is diagnosed, keep an optimistic outlook, and make informed decisions about treatment. The outlook for long-term remission of breast cancer is increasingly positive, with correspondingly increasing hope that the long-term effects will be minimal and "acceptable" to everyone in the picture.