Do I need to regularly
visit my Oncologist?
Yes, very much! All cancers have respective protocols for regular visits to the Oncologist. The reason is that, any cancer, however small, has some chance of coming back. Of course, the earlier the stage, the higher the chance of cure and lesser the chance of cancer coming back. Breast cancer has excellent cure rates; in some patients, even if there is a recurrence, we can treat it well.
For breast cancer, the follow up protocol is pretty straight forward. The one common protocol, which most institutes around the world use, is the ASCO Breast Cancer Follow Up and Management Guidelines. Click on the link to go to that page, and please read the 'Recommnedations' paragraph. It is very easy to understand. Most Hospitals will follow this or a slight modification of the same.
The standard time interval we ask the patient to visit us is (from the time of completion of treatment) :
First 2 years: Every 3 or 4 months
Next 3 years: Every 6 months
After that: Every year
As for the tests on follow up, the guidelines clearly state that, except for a mammography once in 12 to 18 motnhs, unless there are symptoms, there is no need to do any other tests (including imaging, PET scans, blood tests, ultrasounds, x rays etc.). It is up to the Oncologist to assess the patient, take history and examine and then if a doubt comes up, then tests may be suggested. Otherwise no tests. The reason of not doing tests regularly is, by catching a 'recurrence of a cancer' early, before it produces symptoms (and treating it), has not been shown to have any effect on overall survival. This complex statement only means that, unless there are symptoms which warrant test, there is no point in doing tests just like that.