Follow-up and recovery

You will have appointments to see your doctor or nurse every few months once your treatment ends. You can talk to them about any concerns you have and you should let them know if you think you have any new symptoms.

If you had lymph nodes removed during surgery or had radiotherapy you are at risk of developing lymphoedema. This is when fluid collects and one or both legs can swell. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about what you can do to reduce your risk. This includes looking after and protecting your skin.

Many women choose to live a healthier life after treatment for cancer. Things you may wish to do include:

  • eating healthily
  • doing more physical activity
  • giving up smoking
  • cutting down on alcohol.

It’s normal to worry about the cancer coming back or to feel anxious before your hospital appointments. You can talk to your doctor, family or friends for support.

Once treatment finishes

After your treatment has finished, you’ll usually have regular check-ups. Your appointments will be every few months at first, but eventually they may be once a year.

Appointments are a good opportunity to talk to your doctor or nurse about any concerns you have. But if you notice any new symptoms or have any problems between appointments, you can contact your doctor or nurse for advice.

Many women find that for a while, they get quite anxious before appointments. You may worry about the cancer coming back. This is natural. It can help to get support from family, friends or other organisations.

You can also speak to our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

Effects after treatment – Lymphoedema

If the lymph nodes in your groin have been removed by surgery, or if you’ve had radiotherapy to the area, fluid sometimes builds up in one or both legs. This is called lymphoedema.

The lymph nodes are part of our immune system and help us fight infection. If they’re damaged, lymph fluid (which flows along fine tubes between the lymph nodes) can build up. Lymphoedema can develop months or even years after treatment, causing one or occasionally both legs to become swollen. There are things you can do to reduce your risk of lymphoedema – in particular, protecting the skin on your legs and feet. Infections can trigger lymphoedema, so it’s important to avoid damage to the skin. If you get swelling in your foot or leg, always get it checked by your doctor or nurse.

What you can do

There are things you can do to reduce your risk of lymphoedema:

  • Keep your skin clean and moisturise it every day with unperfumed cream or oil to keep it in good condition.
  • Wash small grazes and cuts straight away, put on antiseptic cream and cover if necessary.
  • See your GP straight away if you get signs of infection around a cut, for example if it becomes red, hot or swollen.
  • Try to avoid having very hot baths and showers.
  • Wear shoes that are the right fit and size for your feet.
  • Cover up or use a high-factor sunscreen (SPF 30 or above) on sunny days.
  • Keep to a healthy weight and keep physically active.
  • Avoid standing in the same position for too long.

Managing lymphoedema

If you develop lymphoedema, you should be referred to a clinic for specialist advice. There are lots of things that can be done to reduce the swelling and stop it getting worse.

At the lymphoedema clinic, you’ll be given advice on caring for your skin. You’ll also be shown positioning excercises and how to do self-massage. A specialist will measure you for a compression garment to wear on the affected leg to reduce the swelling. They may also recommend other treatments for you.

Well-being and recovery

After treatment you’ll probably be keen to get back to a sense of ordinary life. But you may still be coping with the side effects of treatment and with some difficult emotions. Recovery takes time, so try not to be hard on yourself.

Some women choose to make some positive lifestyle changes. It’s not to say you didn't follow a healthy lifestyle before cancer, but you may be more focused on making the most of your health. We've included information here that may help you focus on what you can do.

Eat healthily

Eating healthily will give you more energy and help you to recover. Try to eat plenty fresh fruit and vegetables (5 portions a day). And, if you eat meat, cut down on processed and red meats and eat more chicken and fish.

Be physically active

Being physically active helps to build up your energy levels, keep your weight healthy, as well as reducing stress and the risk of other health conditions. It also reduces the risk of bone thinning in women who had an early menopause.

Your GP or cancer specialist may be able to refer you to special exercise groups run by exercise trainers.

Stop smoking and stick to sensible drinking

If you’re a smoker, giving up smoking is one of the healthiest decisions you can make. Continuing to smoke increases the risks of developing smoking-related cancers and heart disease.

It’s recommended that women drink no more than two units a day or 14 units a week.

Back to What happens after treatment?

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