For many men with breast cancer, treatment can remove or destroy the cancer. The end of treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but it’s hard not to worry about cancer coming back. This is very common if you’ve had cancer.
For other people, the cancer may never go away completely. Some people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other therapies to try to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful.
Even after you have completed breast cancer treatment, your doctors will want to watch you closely. It’s very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask if you are having any problems. They may do exams and lab tests or imaging tests to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some might only last for a few days or weeks, but others might last a long time. Some side effects might not even show up until years after you have finished treatment. Visits with your doctor are a good time for you to ask questions and talk about any changes or problems you notice or concerns you have. However, if you have additional concerns about your cancer, you do not have to wait until your next scheduled visit. You can call your doctor immediately.
Typical follow-up schedules
Doctor visits: At first, your follow-up doctor visits will probably be scheduled for every few months. The longer you have been free of cancer, the less often the appointments are needed. After 5 years, they are typically done about once a year.
Mammograms: Routine screening mammograms, even after a breast cancer diagnosis in a man, is not common, and it is unclear how helpful they are.
Bone density tests: If you are taking an aromatase inhibitor or a luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) analog, you may be at increased risk for osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). Your doctor may want to monitor your bone health and may consider testing your bone density.
Other tests: Other tests such as blood tumor marker studies, blood tests of liver function, bone scans, and chest x-rays are not a standard part of follow-up. Getting these tests doesn’t help someone treated with breast cancer live longer. They will be done (as indicated) if you have symptoms or physical exam findings that suggest that the cancer has recurred. These and other tests may be done as part of evaluating new treatments by clinical trials.
If symptoms, exams, or tests suggest cancer may have recurred, imaging tests such as a chest x-ray, CT scan, PET scan, MRI scan, bone scan, and/or a biopsy may be done. Your doctor may also measure levels of blood tumor markers such as CA15-3, CEA or CA27-29. The blood levels of these substances go up in some men if their cancer has spread. They are not elevated in everyone with recurrence, so these tests aren’t always helpful. However, if your are elevated, they may help your doctor monitor the results of treatment.
Men who have had breast cancer can also still get other types of cancer. Talk to your doctor about genetic testing to see if you have a hereditary cancer syndrome that might put you at a very high risk for other cancers. Male breast cancer survivors also have a normal risk for other types of cancers. Because of this, it’s important to follow the American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of cancer, such as those for colorectal cancer and prostate. To learn more about the risks of second cancers and what you can do about them, see Second Cancers After Male Breast Cancer.
Ask your doctor for a survivorship care plan
Talk with your doctor about developing a survivorship care plan for you. This plan might include:
- A suggested schedule for follow-up exams and tests
- A schedule for other tests you might need in the future, such as early detection (screening) tests for other types of cancer, or tests to look for long-term health effects from your cancer or its treatment
- A list of possible late- or long-term side effects from your treatment, including what to watch for and when you should contact your doctor
- Diet and physical activity suggestions
- Reminders to keep your appointments with your primary care provider (PCP), who will monitor your general health care
Lowering your risk of breast cancer progressing or coming back
If you have (or have had) breast cancer, you probably want to know if there are things you can do that might lower your risk of the cancer growing or coming back, such as exercising, eating a certain type of diet, or taking nutritional supplements. Research has shown that some things that might be helpful but the studies have been done in women with breast cancer, since breast cancer in men is so rare. Many of the recommendations, however, have been shown to help reduce a person’s risk of developing cancer, in general.
Staying as healthy as possible is more important than ever after breast cancer treatment. Controlling your weight, exercising, and eating right may help you lower your risk of your breast cancer coming back, and may help protect you from other health problems.