You have regular follow up after your treatment for breast cancer. This is to check how you are and see whether you have any problems or concerns.
Why you have follow up
At each follow up your doctor or nurse checks how you are coping with any ongoing treatment, for example hormone therapy.
Your healthcare team can give you information and support to help you cope. Your appointments are also a good opportunity to raise any concerns and ask questions that you might have.
How often are my check ups?
After your treatment, you might have regular check ups for at least 5 years. How long you have these will vary depending on your hospital or clinic.
You might have regular follow up appointments at the hospital.
Some hospitals have a system of nurse-led follow up where you don't have regular appointments. In this system, you might have regular phone calls with your specialist nurse. You can also contact them and arrange an appointment if you have any new symptoms or are worried about anything. You may hear this called open access follow up.
Your healthcare team will let you know about the type of follow up you will have.
They ask how you are feeling, whether you have had any symptoms or side effects and if you are worried about anything.
If you are seen at the hospital your doctor or nurse will examine you. You might also see physiotherapists and dietitians during the check ups. You can arrange to see them with your doctor or nurse at the outpatient clinic.
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:
- signs and symptoms to look out for and who to speak to if you notice any changes
- contact details for specialist staff, such as your breast care nurse
- details of support services who can help with problems such as arm swelling (lymphoedema)
- information about treatment you may be taking, for example hormone therapy
What test might I have?
You have a mammogram every year for at least 5 years after treatment for early breast cancer.
Women under 50 years
You have mammograms every year until you are invited for routine breast screening. This is around the age of 50.
Women over 50 years
You have mammograms every year for 5 years. After which you have routine breast screening as part of the National Screening Programme.
Mammograms after having a mastectomy
You have a mammogram of the opposite breast if you’ve had a mastectomy. This means if you have a mastectomy of the right breast, you only have a mammogram of the left breast.
The NHS Breast Screening Programme invites all women from the age of 50 to 70 for screening every 3 years. After the age of 70, you can arrange your own regular mammograms by contacting your local screening service.
You are not routinely offered other tests to follow up breast cancer unless you have symptoms or feeling unwell.
Some women may have a bone density scan to check their bone strength. You might have this if you are taking a type of hormone therapy called an aromatase inhibitor.
How you might feel?
During your treatment for breast cancer, you see your doctors and nurses regularly. This is usually before each chemotherapy treatment or weekly during radiotherapy.
Coming to the end of treatment is a milestone for many. But you can have mixed feelings about this, particularly as you’ve had regular contact with your healthcare team and it’s now less frequent.
Do speak to your breast care nurse. They can put you in touch with local groups that can help. It can sometimes help to talk to others who have similar experiences.
Life after cancer
In this video Yvonne 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.
Yvonne: My name is Yvonne Pickford. I live in Birmingham and I’ve had breast cancer.
Sonia: Yvonne having breast cancer I feel has tightened the bond between us as sisters.
Yvonne: She helped me to stay strong and it was nice to have her there as my crutch
Sonia: When Yvonne informed me that her treatment was successful it took a while to sink in but then I thought, yes.
Yvonne: It is something that you just want to shout from the rooftop. I did it. And at the same time a little bit frightened of what do I do now. Where do I go now?
Because I was feeling uncertain, because I was feeling low, I decided to go to counselling.
The words of wisdom would not necessarily come from the councillors and psychologists that were there, they would come from the other group members.
It was nice to have people to talk to that had been on the journey and I found that it helped immensely. Definitely worth it.
I still had yearly check-ups which was a bit of a rollercoaster leading up to them.
Sonia: there was always that anticipation, fear as to what the outcome of the appointment was going to be.
Yvonne: But as time went on it became easier it became part of our normal you know, routine.
I still had a lot of fatigue, one breast was smaller than the other, I still had the scars. And also my treatment pushed me through early menopause which I was not ready for.
Sonia: These hot flushes that she would have became her tropical moments.
Yvonne: One of the things that I felt helped was to go back to my exercising. It lifts you. It just makes you be more positive.
Sonia: Having cancer was traumatic for Yvonne but it was also a wakeup call for the whole family. We appreciate all of the times that we have together.
Yvonne: Life is wonderful, life is good. You know, you’ve been through so much and you’re a stronger person for it. You have a different zest for life and you just love it.