Life after Breast Cancer

The aim of breast cancer treatment is to return women to normal activities and as normal a life as possible. Life will always be different after being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer but that's not to say that it can't be enjoyable and fun and adventurous.

Many women have a different perspective on life after breast cancer treatment. Of course it is very difficult for anyone who has not had breast cancer to appreciate exactly what life is like after breast cancer treatment.

Overall recovery and return to work

This varies enormously and depends upon several factors such as: Extent of surgery Need for Radiotherapy and/or Chemotherapy How well you recover from treatment Your motivation to return to work The type of work you do

As a general guide, most women with breast cancer will take at least 3 - 6 months off work. It is however, possible to work through treatment if the type of work you do is not too arduous and fairly flexible. Some women feel that getting back to work and its routine is a good way of recovering from breast cancer. Likewise some women quite reasonably stay off work for several months, a year or more, or give up work altogether. Due to the number of variables it is better to discuss this individually based upon your particular circumstances.

Routine follow-up

This currently varies between private practice and NHS practice. Follow-up is aimed at providing the following services:

  • Monitoring the effects of treatment
  • Detecting and treating adverse effects of treatment
  • Screening for evidence of recurrent breast cancer
  • Screening for the development of a new breast cancer
  • Psychological support
  • Supervising on-going treatment
  • Reviewing your needs to maintain as normal a life as possible

Private patients are seen routinely every 6-12 months and this interval can be negotiated and adjusted as time goes on. Mammograms are performed every 12 - 24 months and routine blood tests in certain cases. You will be seen by Mr Macmillan at every visit.

NHS patients may be discharged 1 year after treatment is complete in some cases or after 5 years of annual review. Mammogram follow-up continues indefinitely. NHS follow-up is limited because of NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) guidelines, which reached the conclusion that follow-up is of limited value and not cost-effective.

NHS follow-up clinics are staffed primarily by fully trained nurse specialists.

Symptoms related to treatment

Long-term symptoms related to treatment fall into two main groups:


Many women are affected emotionally during and after breast cancer treatment. One of the many functions of Breast Care Nurses is to help women to psychologically adjust after being diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer. Some women find it very difficult to adjust after breast cancer treatment. In such situations referral may be made to a specialist team.


For most women there will always be physical reminders of breast cancer treatment. One of the priorities of breast cancer surgery is to minimise the effect of treatment on your appearance. Some women will have persistent tenderness or occasional pains or areas of numbness.


Q. How will I know if I have a recurrence of my breast cancer?
Answer - This is difficult to answer specifically. In general most women with a recurrence know that something definite is wrong. However, if you feel unwell or have persistent aches/pains/cough/lumps or other symptoms that are unusual for you, they need to be checked out. Many women will naturally assume the worst. It is the case however, that we spend a lot of time reassuring women that their symptoms are nothing to do with breast cancer.

Q. What support groups are there for women like me?
Answer - There are several. Your breast care nurse is the best person to advise you.