For many men with breast cancer, treatment can remove or destroy the cancer. The end of treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but it's hard not to worry about cancer coming back. This is very common if you've had cancer.
For other people, the cancer may never go away completely. Some people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other therapies to try to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful.
Even after you have completed breast cancer treatment, your doctors will want to watch you closely. It’s very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask if you are having any problems. They may do exams and lab tests or imaging tests to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some might only last for a few days or weeks, but others might last a long time. Some side effects might not even show up until years after you have finished treatment. Visits with your doctor are a good time for you to ask questions and talk about any changes or problems you notice or concerns you have. However, if you have additional concerns about your cancer, you do not have to wait until your next scheduled visit. You can call your doctor immediately.
Doctor visits: At first, your follow-up doctor visits will probably be scheduled for every few months. The longer you have been free of cancer, the less often the appointments are needed. After 5 years, they are typically done about once a year.
Mammograms: Routine screening mammograms, even after a breast cancer diagnosis in a man, is not common, and it is unclear how helpful they are.
Bone density tests: If you are taking an aromatase inhibitor or a luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) analog, you may be at increased risk for osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). Your doctor may want to monitor your bone health and may consider testing your bone density.
Other tests: Other tests such as blood tumor marker studies, blood tests of liver function, bone scans, and chest x-rays are not a standard part of follow-up. Getting these tests doesn’t help someone treated with breast cancer live longer. They will be done (as indicated) if you have symptoms or physical exam findings that suggest that the cancer has recurred. These and other tests may be done as part of evaluating new treatments by clinical trials.
If symptoms, exams, or tests suggest cancer may have recurred, imaging tests such as a chest x-ray, CT scan, PET scan, MRI scan, bone scan, and/or a biopsy may be done. Your doctor may also measure levels of blood tumor markers such as CA15-3, CEA, or CA27-29. The blood levels of these substances go up in some men if their cancer has spread. They are not elevated in everyone with recurrence, so these tests aren't always helpful. However, if your levels are elevated, they may help your doctor monitor the results of treatment.
Men who have had breast cancer can also still get other types of cancer. Talk to your doctor about genetic testing to see if you have a hereditary cancer syndrome that might put you at a very high risk for other cancers. Male breast cancer survivors also have a normal risk for other types of cancers. Because of this, it’s important to follow the American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of cancer, such as those for colorectal cancer and prostate. To learn more about the risks of second cancers and what you can do about them, see Second Cancers After Male Breast Cancer.
Talk with your doctor about developing a survivorship care plan for you. This plan might include:
Even after treatment, it’s very important to keep health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think about their cancer coming back, this could happen.
At some point after your cancer treatment, you might find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesn’t know about your medical history. It’s important to keep copies of your medical records to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Learn more in Keeping Copies of Important Medical Records.
If you have (or have had) breast cancer, you probably want to know if there are things you can do (aside from your treatment) that might lower your risk of the cancer growing or coming back, such as getting or staying active, eating a certain type of diet, or taking nutritional supplements.
Research has found that some things that might be helpful, but nearly all of the studies on this topic have been done in women with breast cancer, since breast cancer in men is rare.
Still, doing what you can to stay as healthy as possible is more important than ever after breast cancer treatment. Controlling your weight, staying active, and eating right may help you lower your risk of your breast cancer coming back, as well as help protect you from other health problems.
If you have had breast cancer, getting to and staying at a healthy weight might help lower your risk of the cancer coming back. A lot of research suggests that being overweight or obese (very overweight) raises this risk. It has also been linked with a higher risk of getting lymphedema, as well as a higher risk of dying from breast cancer.
However, there is less research to show whether losing weight during or after treatment can actually lower the risk of breast cancer coming back. This is complicated by the fact that many people gain weight (without trying) during breast cancer treatment, which itself might increase risk.
Of course, for men who are overweight, getting to a healthy weight can also have other health benefits. Getting to a healthy weight might also lower your risk of getting some other cancers, as well as some other chronic diseases.
Because of the possible health benefits of losing weight, many health care providers now encourage men who are overweight to get to and stay at a healthy weight. Still, it’s important to discuss this with your doctor before trying to lose weight, especially if you are still getting treatment or have just finished it. Your health care team can help you create a plan to lose weight safely.
Among female breast cancer survivors, studies have found a consistent link between physical activity and a lower risk of breast cancer coming back and of dying from breast cancer, as well as of dying from any cause. This has not been well studied in men, but it may still apply. Physical activity has also been linked to improvements in quality of life, physical functioning, and fewer fatigue symptoms.
It’s not clear exactly how much activity might be needed, but more seems to be better. More vigorous activity may also be more helpful than less vigorous activity. But further studies are needed to help clarify this.
In the past, breast cancer survivors with lymphedema were often advised to avoid certain arm exercises and vigorous activities. But studies have found that such physical activity is safe when done properly. In fact, it might actually lower the risk of lymphedema, or improve lymphedema for someone who already has it.
As with other types of lifestyle changes, it’s important to talk with your treatment team before starting a new physical activity program. This will likely include meeting with a physical therapist as well. Your team can help you plan a program that can be both safe and effective for you.
Most research on possible links between diet and the risk of breast cancer coming back has looked at broad dietary patterns, rather than specific foods. In general, it’s not clear if eating any specific type of diet can help lower your risk of breast cancer coming back.
Studies have found that female breast cancer survivors who eat diets high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, chicken, and fish tend to live longer than those who eat diets that have more refined sugars, fats, red meats (such as beef, pork, and lamb), and processed meats (such as bacon, sausage, luncheon meats, and hot dogs). But it’s not clear if this is due to effects on breast cancer or possibly to other health benefits of eating a healthy diet.
Many people have questions about whether soy products are safe to eat after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Soy foods are rich sources of compounds called isoflavones that can have estrogen-like properties in the body. Some studies in women have suggested that soy food intake might lower the risk of breast cancer coming back, although more research is needed to confirm this. While eating soy foods doesn’t seem to pose a risk, the evidence regarding the effects of taking soy or isoflavone supplements, which often contain much higher levels of these compounds, is not as clear.
While the links between specific types of diets and breast cancer coming back are not certain, there are clearly health benefits to eating well. For example, diets that are rich in plant sources are often an important part of getting to and staying at a healthy weight. Eating a healthy diet can also help lower your risk for some other health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Some people want to know if there are any dietary or nutritional supplements they can take to help lower their risk. So far, no dietary supplements (including vitamins, minerals, and herbal products) have been shown to clearly help lower the risk of breast cancer progressing or coming back, in men or women. This doesn’t mean that none will help, but it’s important to know that none have been proven to do so.
Dietary supplements are not regulated like medicines in the United States – they do not have to be proven effective (or even safe) before being sold, although there are limits on what they’re allowed to claim they can do. If you're thinking about taking any type of nutritional supplement, talk to your health care team. They can help you decide which ones you can use safely while avoiding those that might be harmful.
It’s clear that alcohol – even as little as a few drinks a week – increases the risk of getting breast cancer, at least among women. But whether alcohol affects the risk of breast cancer coming back is not as clear. Drinking alcohol can raise the levels of estrogen in the body, which in theory could increase the risk of breast cancer coming back. But there is no strong evidence from studies to support this.
Although there is no specific research in men with breast cancer and alcohol, alcohol use has been linked with several other types of cancer. It is best not to drink alcohol. For men who do drink, they should have no more than 2 drinks a day to help lower their risk of getting certain types of cancer.
Because this issue is complex, it’s important to discuss it with your health care team, taking into account your risk of breast cancer coming back (or getting a new cancer) and your risk of other health issues linked to alcohol use.
If cancer does return, your treatment options will depend on where it comes back, what treatments you've had before, and your current health and preferences. For more information on how recurrent cancer is treated, see Treatment of Breast Cancer in Men, by Stage.
Men who have had breast cancer can also still get other types of cancer. Men with breast cancer should be offered genetic testing to see if they have a hereditary cancer syndrome and could be at a very high risk for other cancers. They also have a normal risk for other types of cancers. Learn more in Second Cancers After Male Breast Cancer.
Some amount of feeling depressed, anxious, or worried is normal when breast cancer is a part of your life. Some people are affected more than others. But everyone can benefit from help and support from other people, whether friends and family, religious groups, support groups, professional counselors, or others. Learn more in Life After Cancer.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Chen WY, Rosner B, Hankinson SE, Colditz GA, Willett WC. Moderate alcohol consumption during adult life, drinking patterns, and breast cancer risk. JAMA. 2011;306:1884-1890.
Rock CL, Thomson CA, Sullivan KR, et al. American Cancer Society nutrition and physical activity guideline for cancer survivors. CA Cancer J Clin. 2022. Accessed at https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21719 on March 16, 2022.
Rock CL, Thomson C, Gansler T, et al. American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2020;70(4). doi:10.3322/caac.21591. Accessed at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21591 on June 9, 2020.
Last Revised: March 16, 2022