What happens after treatment?

You have regular check-ups and mammograms after treatment. Your nurse will advise you on managing the different effects of treatment.

Your nurse will explain what to look out for in your treated breast. Contact your nurse if you notice anything new in either breast.

Breast cancer and its treatment can affect your sex life. This often improves over time but talk to your nurse if you’re still having problems. They will advise you not to use contraception containing hormones, such as the contraceptive pill or some coils.

Doctors advise women who want children to delay getting pregnant for a couple of years after treatment. Some treatments can also affect your ability to have children (your fertility). You can see a fertility specialist before treatment starts.

Some women develop swelling of the arm, called lymphoedema. Your nurse will explain how you can reduce the risk of developing this.

Certain treatments may cause an early menopause, leading to menopausal symptoms. HRT isn’t recommended but your nurse will advise you on ways of managing the symptoms.

Follow-up

After treatment, you may have regular check-ups and yearly mammograms. At first your appointments may be every few months, but eventually they may be once a year. If you notice any new symptoms between appointments, it’s important to contact your doctor or nurse for advice. You will be given contact numbers so that you don’t have to wait until your next appointment to do this.

Instead of routine appointments, some women are given information on what to look out for by their breast care nurse. They are asked to contact their nurse or cancer specialist if there is anything they are worried about. Some women may have their follow-up appointments at a nurse-led clinic and only see their cancer specialist if something needs to be checked further.

Many women find they feel anxious for a while once treatment ends. This is natural. It can help to get support from family, friends or one of the organisations listed on our database. You can also contact our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

Breast awareness

Although you will have yearly mammograms, it’s still a good idea to be aware of what’s now normal for you. Your treated breast will look and feel different depending on the treatment you have had.

Your breast care nurse can tell you what you should expect and what to look out for. It’s also important to be aware of what to look out for in your untreated breast.

If you notice anything unusual between appointments, contact your cancer specialist or breast care nurse straight away.


Sex and fertility

Cancer and its treatments can have an effect on your sex life or your ability to have children (fertility).

Sexuality

Breast cancer, its treatments and side effects may affect your sex life and your feelings about yourself as a woman.

Difficulties often gradually improve after treatment, although for some women, it may take longer. You may feel insecure and worry whether your partner or a future partner will find you sexually attractive. Talking openly with you partner about how you feel can help. You may both need some time to adjust.

Cuddles, kisses and massages can show how much you care for someone, even if you don’t feel like having sex. You can wait until you and your partner feel ready – there’s no right or wrong time.

Let your doctor or nurse know if you have any difficulties with your sex life that don’t improve. They may be able to reassure you and can offer further help and support. If you feel uncomfortable talking to your doctor or nurse, you can call us on 0808 808 00 00

Some people may find it helpful to talk to a sex therapist. You can contact a therapist through the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists.

Contraception

Your doctor will advise you not to use contraception containing hormones, such as the pill, or coils (intra-uterine devices) that release hormones. Coils that don’t contain hormones or barrier contraception methods, such as condoms or the cap, are usually the most suitable. Your breast care nurse can give you advice.

Pregnancy

Having a family can be an important part of life after cancer. Some women, particularly if they are under the age of 35, don’t have difficulties getting pregnant naturally after treatment.

Doctors sometimes advise women to wait for two years. This is because breast cancer is most likely to come back during this time. But waiting also gives women time to recover from treatment. Studies show that getting pregnant after breast cancer does not increase the risk of it coming back.

If you are taking hormone therapy and thinking of getting pregnant it’s important to talk to your cancer specialist first. It is not advisable to get pregnant while taking tamoxifen as it may harm a developing baby. Talk to your specialist before you stop taking any medicines.

Effects on fertility

Some breast cancer treatments may affect your ability to have children (fertility).

Chemotherapy can bring on an early menopause, especially in women who are closer to the menopause. But if you are a younger woman, even though your periods may stop during treatment, they may start again after it has finished.

It’s important to talk to your cancer specialist about your fertility before treatment starts. Sometimes it may be possible to remove eggs from your ovaries before your treatment. These can be fertilised with a partner’s sperm, and the embryos (fertilised eggs) frozen and stored to use later. Women without a partner may have their eggs frozen and stored.

Becoming infertile can be very hard to live with, whether or not you already have children. Some women find it helpful to talk through their feelings with a trained counsellor. If you need more specialist help, ask your doctor or nurse to arrange this for you.


Effects after treatment

After treatment, you will probably be keen to get back to doing the day-to-day things you did before. But you may still be coping with some side effects of treatment and some difficult emotions. It takes time to recover, often several months, so try not to expect too much of yourself.


Lymphoedema

Lymphoedema is a swelling of the arm that sometimes happens after surgery or radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in the armpit. It can develop months or years after treatment. If you only had a sentinel lymph node biopsy, your risk of lymphoedema is small. Women who had all or a large number of lymph nodes removed are more at risk.

Women who have had radiotherapy to the armpit as well as surgery are more likely to get lymphoedema.


Early menopause or menopausal symptoms

Some treatments can cause an early or temporary menopause. Hormonal therapies can cause side effects that are the same as menopausal symptoms.

Doctors don’t recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT) because it contains oestrogen, which could encourage breast cancer cells to grow. If your menopausal symptoms are severe and nothing else has helped, some doctors may occasionally prescribe HRT. You will need to talk this over with your doctor to make sure you know the possible risks.

Early menopause can increase the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis). We have more information about looking after your bones, including helpful tips on keeping them healthy.

A number of organisations, including The Daisy Network, provide support to women going through the menopause.

We also have a video about coping with menopausal symptoms.

Breast cancer and the menopause

Diane describes living with breast cancer and the menopausal symptoms that were caused by her chemotherapy.

About our cancer information videos

Breast cancer and the menopause

Diane describes living with breast cancer and the menopausal symptoms that were caused by her chemotherapy.

About our cancer information videos

Back to After treatment for breast cancer

What if cancer comes back?

After your cancer is successfully treated it may still come back. It is often possible to treat cancers that come back.