Coping with breast cancer | Cancer Research UK
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Coping with breast cancer

It can be very difficult to cope with a diagnosis of cancer, both practically and emotionally. You are likely to feel numb or scared, and perhaps confused and upset at first. As well as coping with the fear and anxiety that a diagnosis of cancer brings, you may have to work out how to manage practically. Our coping with cancer section contains lots of information you may find helpful. There are sections about

  • Your feelings and talking about cancer
  • How you can help yourself
  • Who else can help you
  • Where to get practical and financial support


CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Living with breast cancer section.


Coping with your diagnosis

It can be very difficult to cope with a diagnosis of breast cancer, both practically and emotionally. At first, you may feel scared or numb, or perhaps upset and confused. Or you may feel that things are out of your control. It is very important to get the right information about your type of cancer and how it is best treated. People who are well informed about their illness and treatment are more able to make decisions and cope with what happens.


How breast cancer can affect you physically

Breast cancer and its treatment may cause physical changes in your body. These changes can be very difficult to cope with and may affect the way you feel about yourself. Most women will have surgery, which can affect the shape of one or both breasts and cause scarring. Such body changes can affect your self esteem and the way you relate to other people, especially close family and friends. The surgery may cause ongoing discomfort or soreness for some women. We have information about coping after breast cancer surgery

Some hormone therapy treatments can cause aching in the joints or bones. If you have this, let your doctor or nurse know so that they can prescribe painkillers for you.

Another problem you may have to cope with is feeling very tired and lethargic (fatigued) some of the time. This may especially be a problem for a while after treatment or if the breast cancer is advanced. There is information about fatigue and cancer and treating cancer fatigue on this website.

Research has shown that moderate exercise can help women with breast cancer to feel better and have a better quality of life during treatment. Research has also found that exercise after treatment has healthy effects on the body and helped to reduce tiredness (fatigue) and depression for some women. Some research reviews also seem to show that increasing the level of activity can help to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. If you are interested in exercising it is important to speak to your cancer specialist or breast care nurse. We have more information about exercise and breast cancer.

If you are having a sexual relationship, one or all of these changes may affect your sex life. We have information about how cancer can affect your sex life. There is also information about pregnancy and breast cancer. We have information about how cancer drugs may affect fertility and about preserving fertility during breast cancer treatment.


Coping practically with breast cancer

As well as coping with the fear and anxiety that a diagnosis of breast cancer brings, you may also have to work out how to manage practically. There may be money matters to sort out. You may need information about financial support, such as benefits, sick pay and grants.

Who do you tell that you have cancer? And how do you find the words? You may also have children to think about. We have information about talking to people about your cancer and how and what to tell children.

Remember that you don't have to sort everything out at once. It may take some time to deal with each issue. Do ask for help if you need it though. Your doctor or specialist nurse will know who you can contact to get some help. They can put you in touch with professionals who are specially trained in supporting people with cancer. These people are there to help and want you to feel that you have support. So use them if you feel you need to.

You may need to have access to support staff, such as a breast care nurse or dietician. Social workers can help you with information about your entitlement to sick pay and benefits. If you live alone, a social worker may be able to help by organising convalescence when you first go out of hospital.


Life after cancer

In this video Yvonne shares her story of life after breast cancer. In this video she shares her story of life after breast cancer and how she coped when her treatment finished. She talks about some of the physical effects of the cancer and its treatment and what helped her through. She and her sister Sonia  also talk about what it was like going to check up appointments something that is not always easy. Coping after treatment finishes can be challenging and hearing about how other people cope can help.

View a transcript of the video showing Yvonne's story. The transcript opens in a new window.


More information about coping with breast cancer

The coping with cancer section has lots of helpful information. There are sections about

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

You can also contact the organisations on our breast cancer organisations list. They often have free factsheets and booklets they can send to you. They may also be able to put you in touch with a support group. There is also a breast cancer reading list

You may find it helpful to look at our section about counselling. Counselling organisations can tell you more about counselling and help you find sources of emotional support in your area.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum. 

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Updated: 2 August 2014