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Anne Blaes, MD, offers five tips for breast cancer survivors

After successful breast cancer treatment, survivors may be confronted with a host of new questions, concerns and fears. Hematologist/Oncologist Anne Blaes, MD, shares a few tips for breast cancer survivors.
Exercise, eat well, ask frequent questions. Breast cancer survivors often face new challenges after cancer treatment. Hematologist/Oncologist Anne Blaes, MD, offers some pointers.

Many newly diagnosed breast cancer patients ask: “What do I need to know?” 

At that point in time—with the diagnosis just minutes, hours or days old—breast cancer patients face plenty of uncertainty and may have many questions. Fortunately, there are often a variety of support resources available and many knowledgeable physicians and care providers on hand to help.

But after successful treatment, when cancer survivors begin to transition back into routine life, they are once again confronted by worry and confusion. Survivors may wonder what steps they need to take to complete the healing process, or they may want to know how their healthcare needs may change as a result of the cancer and treatment.

We asked University of Minnesota Health Hematologist/Oncologist Anne Blaes, MD, to share five tips for breast cancer survivors. Here’s what she had to say:

Know your cancer treatment history.

Be aware of the drugs you received, the radiation you received, and the medications you are on (tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors, for example). Ask for a treatment summary from your care team. Having a deep understanding of your cancer treatment history will enable you to be an advocate, and will help your providers keep you healthy. Consider regular check-ins with both your oncologist and your primary care physician. By seeing both of them, you are more likely to get comprehensive preventative care and necessary screening for all health matters. You can also consider an evaluation in our Cancer Survivor Program.

Learn more about University of Minnesota Health breast cancer services.

Focus on exercise.

The American Academy of Sports Medicine recommends that cancer survivors exercise at least 150 minutes per week. If you feel like this is too challenging, try to break it up into several shorter exercise sessions, or reduce the intensity of the workout. For example, you could consider taking a walk instead of jogging. If you have low stamina as a result of your condition or treatment, try doing 10- to 15-minute sessions twice a day instead of all at once. There are a plenty of resources available for exercise and fitness support, including our cancer rehabilitation program. Exercise helps fatigue, concentration, and in some studies helps to prevent breast cancer recurrence.

Rest well.

The transition from weekly appointments to less regular visits is a challenging one. Most cancer survivors—roughly 66 percent—fear recurrence of their cancer. Roughly 51 percent of patients with breast cancer report sleep difficulties. Of them, 19 percent meet criteria for insomnia and 95 percent will have chronic problems lasting more than six months. Consider trying a meditation or mindfulness class or a support group.  Some individuals may benefit from seeing a psycho-oncologist or a social worker. Exercise. All these things will help you rest more thoroughly, both mentally and physically.

Eat well. 

Did you know that most breast cancer survivors on aromatase inhibitors and tamoxifen will gain an average of 5 to 10 pounds? Additionally, breast cancer survivors with stage 1-3 breast cancer are at greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than from recurrent breast cancer. Eat foods low in animal fats. Eat at least three to four servings of fruit and three to four servings of vegetables per day. Avoid smoked and processed foods.

Learn more about University of Minnesota Health nutrition services.

Ask questions. 

Many patients finishing treatment think they should accept a “new normal.” Some things may irrevocably change in the wake of breast cancer treatment, but other problems can be addressed. If you aren’t feeling well, call and talk to your healthcare team. Ask if there are interventions and tools available to help you improve your stamina, your strength and your memory (i.e. rehabilitation for your memory impairment). Always ask questions.