Monitoring after Breast Cancer Treatment
- Netflix star Clea Shearer just shared that she’s cancer-free after a nine-month breast cancer battle that included a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation for treatment. She was originally diagnosed in March 2022.
- The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer but earlier if they are at a higher risk. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
- Monitoring is essential after breast cancer treatment, but it’s important to remember that most early-stage, non-metastatic breast cancer patients never see their disease return after treatment. Breast cancer survivors can expect to see their doctor every three to four months in the years immediately following treatment, according to one of our experts.
Shearer just reached a major milestone in her nine-month breast cancer battle: the end of in-house treatment. The star of “Get Organized with The Home Edit” made the announcement in her most recent Instagram post.
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“I’m done! Today marks my journey from cancer patient, to cancer SURVIVOR,” she wrote under a series of photos that included shots of her ringing a bell to mark the completion of her treatment. “I haven’t stopped crying since I was able to ring the bell.”
And, in showing her positive attitude yet again, Shearer also mentioned how lucky she felt to spend so much time with her family during treatment.
“There have been so many silver linings that I want to highlight,” she wrote. “My mother moved in with us on April 6th right before my surgery, and only went back to California a few times (to visit my dad 😂). It’s crazy to say this, but we had the most special time? I never imagined at 40 years old I would live with my mom again, and I loved every minute.
“I’ve also never had this amount of time with [her husband] and the kids. It’s a time in my life I will treasure, even though it was extremely difficult for all of us.”
Clea Shearer’s Cancer Journey
Clea Shearer was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 8, 2022. For treatment, she began with a double mastectomy on April 8.
“I woke up after 9 hours of surgery to find out the cancer had made it’s way into my lymph nodes, which would mean chemo and radiation were a necessity,” Shearer wrote in her most recent post.
Sadly, as she “was trying to digest that information,” another hiccup came in the form of necrosis – the death of body tissue resulting from too little blood flow.
“7 days later, I had to go back into surgery for necrosis (my skin was not going to make it),” she wrote. “But after my second surgery I started healing really well and made it through with flying colors.”
Shearer began chemotherapy six weeks after that operation in the form of an AC-Taxol regimen – a chemotherapy combination used to treat breast cancer that includes the drugs doxorubicin hydrochloride (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide, followed by treatment with paclitaxel (Taxol).
“8 weeks of AC followed by 12 weeks of Taxol,” Shearer explained of her specific treatment regimen. “I had some really rough days, but shockingly, I had some good days too! Shout out to reclining chairs, ‘Top Chef,’ and Zofran. I wrapped up chemo on Sept 8th which was 6 weeks early, but my body wasn’t producing white blood cells anymore and the long term damage wasn’t worth the extra treatments.”
Dr. Matthew Carlson, a gynecologic oncologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet there are many different effective medications that patients can try for chemo-related nausea – including Zofran.
“If you throw up, I want to know about it because that means we’re not doing something right,” he said. “We have many, many, many medications that we give before, during, and after chemotherapy that should minimize the nausea that patients experience.”
Shearer then began radiation in October and finished just this week.
“I had some starts and stops,” she said of radiation. “I had to deflate my left breast expander so the radiation beam could hit my right side, I had COVID (what in the actual….), nighttime sessions when no one was in the hospital, gala gown changes in the patient dress room, etc.
“But here I sit, on Nov 22nd, 9 months after my diagnosis – and I’m cancer free.”
It’s unclear if Shearer will have to take anything for further treatment at home. But we’re happy to see her ring that bell and move forward as a cancer survivor.
“As my treatment journey comes to a close (although, it will never be over!), I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart,” she wrote. “The outpouring of love will stay with me always.”
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is much more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer may include:
- A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
- Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
- Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
- A newly inverted nipple
- Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
- Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange
It’s important to keep an eye out for these symptoms while remembering that having one or many of them does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. Regardless, you should always speak with a doctor promptly if anything ever feels off or you’re experiencing one or more of the signs listed above. You never know when speaking up about your health can lead to a very important diagnosis.
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, you should be vigilant and speak with your doctor right away. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.
There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a medical advisor to SurvivorNet, previously told SurvivorNet.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
Monitoring after Breast Cancer Treatment
Now that Clea Shearer is done with treatment, what’s next for the TV star? Monitoring.
Monitoring is essential after breast cancer treatment, but it’s important to remember that most early-stage, non-metastatic breast cancer patients never see their disease return after treatment.
“Remission’s a complicated word to use with breast cancer, because we hope that the women that we treat with early-stage non-metastatic breast cancer are cured,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen previously told SurvivorNet. “But we know that breast cancer can come back years, even decades later.”
That’s why breast cancer survivors undergo monitoring. Dr. Comen says patients can expect to see their doctor every three to four months in the years immediately following treatment.
“In the beginning, when a woman has recently completed her treatment, I usually see women every three to four months to do a breast exam,” Dr. Comen said. “They will get imaging every year or every six months, depending on – in conjunction with the surgeon or radiologist – what may or may not be appropriate for imaging.
“We may do blood work about once a year…. And of course, when I’m seeing patients every three to four months I will be doing an exam, but also asking them how they feel.”
When having a follow-up appointment as a breast cancer survivor, it’s important to share any unusual or relentless symptoms you’ve been experiencing. That being said, most aches and pains are just a part of normal life. But symptoms that don’t seem to go away may be cause for concern.
“Do they have a pain that hasn’t gone away in months? Or do they have shoulder pain every now and again when they play tennis but it goes away, it gets better and it comes back months later, and then gets better?” Dr. Comen explained. “There are different types of aches and pains that we think about and that we look for with patients.”