Long-term survival rates after a diagnosis of breast cancer are steadily rising. This is good news, but clinicians must also recognize that this brings new challenges to the medical community. As breast cancer becomes a chronic condition rather than a life-threatening illness owing to advances in early diagnosis and more effective treatments, health care practitioners must recognize and manage the long-term sequelae of the constellation of therapeutic modalities.
Survivors of breast cancer represent a unique and extremely complex group of patients; not only do they have the challenge of dealing with multiple long-term side effects of treatment protocols, but many are also forced to address the preexisting comorbidities of their therapies, which often include multiple other issues. Therapies have additional and/or additive side effects that may interfere with treatments directed toward the new primary diagnosis of breast cancer. Our mandate is to establish a smooth transition from patient with breast cancer to survivor of breast cancer while providing ongoing and future guidance.
Certainly, the information and resources to accomplish this transition are readily available; however, they are scattered throughout the literature and therefore are not easily accessible or available to the primary care physician. It is imperative that the information available regarding survivorship issues be accessible in an organized and useful format. This article is a modest attempt to provide a comprehensive review of the long-term medical issues relevant to survivorship after the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. A predicted shortage of oncologists by 2020 is well-recognized. Therefore, the bulk of long-term care will become dependent on the primary care physician. This shift of care means that these physicians will need to be well educated in the long-term medical issues related to breast cancer treatment.