Recovery and follow-up of breast cancer

Recovery and follow-up


Most women with breast cancer have an operation as part of their treatment. Getting back to normal after surgery can take some time. It's important to take things slowly and give yourself time to recover.

During this time, avoid lifting thingsfor example, children or heavy shopping bagsand avoid heavy housework. You may also be advised not to drive.


You may need to take a break from some of your normal activities for a while. Don'tbe afraid to ask for practical help from family and friends.


After your treatment has finished, you'll be invited for regular check-ups, usually every three months for the first year.

If you've had early breast cancer, your healthcare team will agree a care plan with you after your treatment has finished.

This plan contains the details of your follow-up. You'll receive a copy of the plan, which will also be sent to your GP.

During the check-up, your doctor will examine you and may carry out Blood tests or X-rays to see how your cancer is responding to treatment.

You should also be offered a mammogram every year for the first five years after your treatment.

Long-term complications

Although it's rare, your treatment for breast cancer may cause new problems, such as:

  • pain and stiffness in your arms and shoulders may occur after surgery, and the skin in these areas may be tight
  • a build-up of excess lymph fluid that causes swelling (lymphoedema) this may occurif surgery or radiotherapy damages the lymphatic drainage system in the armpit

Talk to your healthcare team if you experience these or any other long-term effects of treatment.

Want to know more?

  • Breast Cancer Care: lymphoedema
  • Breast Cancer Care: your operation and recovery (PDF, 148kb)
  • Cancer Research UK: breast cancer follow-up
  • Macmillan Cancer Support: follow-up after breast cancer treatment

Your body and breasts after treatment

Dealing with changes to your body

A diagnosis of breast cancer may change how you think about your body. All women react differently to the bodily changes that happen as a result of breast cancer treatment.

Some women react positively, but others find it more difficult to cope. It's important to give yourself time to come to terms with any changes to your body.

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Early menopause

Although most cases of breast cancer occur in women over 50 who have experiencedthe menopause , some younger women have to cope with anearly menopause brought on by cancer treatment.

Symptoms can include:

  • hot flushes
  • vaginal dryness
  • loss of sexual desire

Talk to your healthcare team about any symptoms you have and they'll be able to help.

Want to know more?

  • Breast Cancer Care: menopausal symptoms after treatment
  • Cancer Research UK: breast cancer and menopausal symptoms
  • Macmillan Cancer Support: breast cancer treatment and menopausal symptoms


An externalbreast prosthesis is an artificial breast, which can be worn inside your bra to replace the volume of thebreast that's been removed.

Soon after a mastectomy, you'll be given a lightweight foam breast to wear until the area affected by surgery or radiotherapy has healed.

After it's healed, you'll be offered a silicone prosthesis. Prostheses come in many different shapes and sizes, and you should be able to find one that suits you.

Want to know more?

  • Breast Cancer Care: breast prostheses
  • Cancer Research UK: after your breast cancer surgery: your false breast shape (prosthesis)


If you didn't have immediate breast reconstruction carried out when you hada mastectomy, you can have reconstruction later. This is called a delayed reconstruction.

There are two main methods of breast reconstruction:

  • reconstruction using your own tissue
  • reconstruction using an implant

The type that's most suitable for you will depend on many factors, including the treatment you've had, any ongoing treatment, and the size of your breasts. Talk to your healthcare team about which reconstruction is suitable for you.

Want to know more?

  • Breast reconstruction
  • My mastectomy and reconstruction
  • Breast Cancer Care: breast reconstruction
  • Cancer Research UK: about breast reconstruction

Relationships and sex

Relationships with friends and family

It's not always easy to talk about cancer , either for you or your family and friends. You may sense that some people feel awkward around you or avoid you.

Being open about how you feel and what your family and friends can do to help may put them at ease. However, don't be afraid to tell them that you need some time to yourself if that's what you need.

Want to know more?

  • Talking to your kids about cancer
  • Breast Cancer Care: relationships and body image
  • how breast cancer affects families
  • Macmillan Cancer Support: talking about your cancer

Your sex life

Breast cancer and its treatment can affect your sex life. It's common for women to lose interest in sex after breast cancer treatment.

Your treatment may leave you feeling very tired. You may feel shocked, confused or depressed about being diagnosed with cancer.

You may be upset by the changes to your body, or grieve the loss of your breasts or, in some cases, fertility.

It's understandable that you may not feel like having sex while coping with all this. Try to share your feelings with your partner.

If you have problems with sex that aren't getting better with time, you may want to speak to a counsellor or sex therapist.

Want to know more?

  • Breast Cancer Care: relationships and family
  • Cancer Research UK: living with breast cancer surgery: sexuality after breast surgery
  • Macmillan Cancer Support: cancer and sexuality

Money and financial support

If you have to reduce or stop work because of your cancer, you may find it difficult to cope financially.

If you have cancer or you're caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to financial support.

For example:

  • if you have a job but can't work because of your illness, you're entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer
  • if you don't have a job and can't work because of your illness, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance
  • if you're caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to Carer's Allowance
  • you may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home, or if you have a low household income

Find out what help is available to you as soon as possible. The social worker at your hospital will be able to give you the information you need.

Free prescriptions

People being treated for cancer are entitled to apply for an exemption certificate, giving them free prescriptions for all medication, including medicine for unrelated conditions.

The certificate is valid for five years, and you can apply for it through your GP or cancer specialist.

Want to know more?

  • Benefits for carers
  • Benefits for the person you care for
  • Q&A: free prescriptions
  • Breast Cancer Care: breast cancer and employment
  • GOV.UK: benefits and financial support
  • Find your nearest CitizensAdvice

Talk to other people

Your GP or nurse may be able to answer any questions you have about your cancer or treatment.

You may find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor or psychologist, or someone at a specialist helpline. Your GP surgery will have information on these.

Some people find it helpful to talk to other people who havebreast cancer, either at a local support group or on an internet chatroom.

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Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 23 Nov 2016