Long-Term Survivors Need All-Encompassing Care

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Because of better diagnostic tests and advances in breast cancer treatments, more people are living longer than ever after being diagnosed.

Doctors wanted to know what affected the development of other diseases -- such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or osteoporosis -- in older women who had been treated for breast cancer.

A German study suggests that whether or not older women who have been treated for breast cancer develop high blood pressure, heart disease, or osteoporosis is affected by the breast cancer treatments they receive, as well as their weight and age.

The study was published in the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Cancer Survivorship. Read the abstract of “Determinants of newly diagnosed comorbidities among breast cancer survivors.”

Doctors call other conditions that happen at the same time as a primary disease “comorbidities.” In this study, breast cancer was the primary disease and high blood pressure, heart disease, and osteoporosis were the comorbidities.

The researchers asked 2,542 German women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer about any health conditions they had before and after they were diagnosed with breast cancer. The women ranged in age from 50 to 74 when they were diagnosed. They were all part of the Mamma carcinoma Risk factor Investigation (MARIEplus) study.

The women were surveyed twice: once when they joined the study and again nearly 6 years after being diagnosed.

The researchers found:

  • Older women with a higher body mass index and women who were treated with Herceptin, a targeted therapy, had a higher risk of high blood pressure; women who had a body mass index that was higher than 30 had almost double the risk of high blood pressure compared to women with a lower body mass index.
  • Women who weighed less and women who had been treated with an aromatase inhibitor, a type of hormonal therapy, had a higher risk of osteoporosis; this risk was doubled in women with a body mass index of less than 22.5.
  • Women with a higher body mass index and women who were treated with an aromatase inhibitor had a higher risk of heart disease.

This study strongly suggests that breast cancer survivors should get regular screenings for heart disease, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. The study also strongly suggests that older women who’ve been treated for breast cancer need to maintain a healthy weight.

After your main breast cancer treatment is done, it’s important to focus on what’s now most important: your good health. You have to make sure you get the best ongoing care and live your best life.

Try to make exercise and a healthy diet part of your daily routine, especially if you’re overweight or obese. It may be hard to make these kinds of changes if you're struggling to recover from treatment. Some women say it helps to think of eating well and exercising as important parts of their long-term treatment plan. You might want to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to develop a healthy eating plan designed specifically for you and your needs. Losing weight is hard to do. But it can be done with exercise and careful diet changes. Be nice to yourself; don't punish yourself. Always tell your doctor about any new diet or exercise plans you're following.

It also makes sense to talk to your doctor about developing a plan to regularly screen you for heart disease, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. Because of certain treatments you may have had, you may need to be screened more often than someone who hasn’t been treated for breast cancer. Together, you and your doctor can develop a plan that makes sense for you.

In the Breastcancer.org Nutrition section, the Eating to Lose Weight After Treatment pages can help you assess your weight and create a healthy eating plan. And the Breastcancer.org Exercise section can help you find a trainer and learn how to stick to an exercise routine.


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