Breast cancer follow up
This page tells you about outpatient appointments after treatment for breast cancer.
Breast cancer follow up
After treatment for breast cancer you will have regular check ups and mammograms. These may continue for several years. At the appointments your doctor or breast care nurse will ask how you are getting over your treatment. They will also check your other breast, ask you how you are feeling, and check out any new symptoms, if you have them.
You can contact a breast care nurse between appointments if you need to. Your breast care nurse is a source of support and advice and can arrange extra appointments at the breast clinic if you are worried about anything. Let your doctor or breast care nurse know as soon as possible if you have any problems. Tell them if you notice any new symptoms between check ups.
What happens during check ups?
Your doctor will examine you and ask how you are feeling. This is your chance to ask about anything that has been worrying you. You may have blood tests from time to time. You may have occasional X-rays. But mostly, your doctor will not order any tests unless you have a symptom, or something in particular is bothering you.
If you have had early breast cancer or DCIS, you have routine mammograms once a year for 5 years. If your cancer was discovered through the NHS breast screening programme you will have yearly mammograms and then go back to the screening programme.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating breast cancer section.
After your treatment you have regular check ups for at least 5 years. You have yearly mammograms for at least 5 years. How long you need regular appointments will vary depending on your hospital or clinic. The appointments may continue for up to 10 years, particularly if you have taken part in a clinical trial.
Your doctor or breast cancer nurse will use the check ups to
- See how you are getting over your treatment
- Discuss further treatment
- Discuss any side effects you may have
- Ask you if you are worried about anything
- Check your other breast
- Check out any new symptoms, if you have any
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines say that everyone who has had treatment for early breast cancer should have a copy of a written care plan.
The care plan has information about tests, signs and symptoms to look out for, and contact details for specialist staff, such as your breast care nurse. The breast care nurse is a source of support and advice and you can contact them between appointments if you are worried about anything. They can arrange extra appointments at the breast clinic for you. The care plan should also include contact details for support services who can help with problems such as arm swelling (lymphoedema).
Your doctor or breast care nurse will examine you and ask how you have been feeling. You can ask them about anything that has been worrying you. You may have blood tests from time to time. You may have occasional X-rays. But mostly, your doctor will not order any tests apart from yearly mammograms unless any of the following occur.
- You have a symptom
- Something in particular is bothering you
- Any of your tests are abnormal
Research has shown that having regular physical check ups and mammograms works as well as more intense follow up, such as scans, X-rays and blood tests. Let your doctor or breast care nurse know as soon as possible if you have any problems. Tell them if you notice any new symptoms between check ups.
Many people find their check ups quite worrying. If you are feeling well and getting on with life, a hospital appointment can bring back all the worry about having cancer. You may find it helpful to tell someone close to you how you are feeling. Or you may want to talk about your concerns with a counsellor. Ask your doctor or nurse if there are counsellors at your hospital.
If you would like more information about anything to do with follow up appointments, contact our information nurses, or one of the breast cancer organisations. They will be happy to help. They can also put you in touch with cancer support groups where you can talk to people who have been through similar experiences to your own.
It is important that you should feel able to ask questions when you see your doctor. Try making a list before your appointment, because people often forget what they want to ask. Remember that any question is worth asking, even if it is one you have asked before.
In this video Yvonne shares her story of life after breast cancer, going to appointments and how she coped.
View a transcript of the video showing Yvonne's story. The transcript opens in a new window.
If you have had early breast cancer or DCIS, you should have routine mammograms to the treated breast (if you have not had a mastectomy) and to your other breast.
The 2009 NICE guidelines recommend that you should have a mammogram once a year for 5 years, or until you start to have mammograms as part of the breast screening programme, whichever is longer. You would usually join the screening programme after you reach your 47th birthday. On the screening programme, women have a mammogram every 3 years.
If your cancer was found by the screening programme you have yearly mammograms for 5 years and then go back to the screening programme.
You can keep in touch about treatments and other aspects of breast cancer. Look at the breast cancer reading list and other sections, including
You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 for information about follow up. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.
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