Most breast cancer survivors require routine mammograms and physical exams to check for new tumors, and often go back to seeing their primary care doctors who may not be aware of the side effects cancer patients experience, but they don’t need extra imaging or lab tests, according to new joint guidelines from two huge U.S. cancer groups.
The guidelines issued Tuesday by the American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) give women and their primary care doctors an updated guide to navigating surveillance for new tumors and a range of physical and mental health problems that accompany surviving, according to Fox News. The guidelines, known as the Breast Cancer Survivorship Guideline, it is featured in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
An oncologist who contributed to the guidelines, Gary Lyman, added that “more and more long-term care is being handled by non-oncologists, so both organizations thought it was important to offer guidance – a set of comprehensive recommendations to health care providers caring for patients with breast cancer.”
Primary care physicians have relied on what Lyman called “piecemeal” information in the past. These were recommendations by different professional organizations that could be confusing. The new guidelines provide clear recommendations.
For example, breast cancer patients and survivors are required to be monitored regularly in the case that the cancer would return. Also, the patient’s physical examination and cancer history must be evaluated, and it is recommended that the patient is screened for new developments.
PCPs should also encourage breast cancer survivors to live a healthy lifestyle and keep up endocrine therapy such as tamoxifen, which is used to keep the cancer away. Additionally, they are to be monitored for post-treatment symptoms that could lead to health problems, Tech Times reports.
“These new guidelines represent a comprehensive set of recommendations covering the spectrum of issues that face breast cancer survivors after their primary treatment,” Lynman said.
Richard Bleicher, a breast surgeon at Fox Chase Center who was not involved in the guidelines, said that they could be particularly helpful to primary care providers.
“I suspect that the biggest improvement will be for things outside of X-rays, laboratory studies, and physical examinations,” Bleicher said in an email. “Issues such as sexual health, cognitive impairment, fatigue and other personal issues and symptoms are probably addressed in a widely varied and inconsistent fashion, if at all, in many practices.”
To update the guidelines for survivors, researchers examined information from 237 previous published studies on breast cancer survivors and talked with experts in gynecology, radiology, surgical and medical oncology, nursing and primary care.
The data researchers studied doesn’t provide enough evidence to suggest that women need regular lab tests or imaging scans because there’s not a survival benefit and there’s not any potential for false-positive results.
“Women with a history of breast cancer are at higher risk than women without a history of breast cancer for many issues, including obesity, heart disease and sexual health issues,” two authors of the guidelines, Corinne Leach of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta and Carolyn Runowicz of Florida International University in Miami, said in a joint email.
Breast tumors are the most common malignancy among women, representing 4 in 10 female cancer survivors in the United States, just behind skin cancer.