Life after treatment for breast cancer

For most people, the cancer experience doesn’t end on the last day of treatment. Life after breast cancer treatment can present its own challenges. You may have mixed feelings when treatment ends, and worry that every ache and pain means the cancer is coming back.

Some people say that they feel pressure to return to “normal life”. It is important to allow yourself time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes, and establish a new daily routine at your own pace. Your family and friends may also need time to adjust.

Cancer Council 13 11 20 can help you connect with other people who have had cancer, and provide you with information about the emotional and practical aspects of living well after cancer.

For more on this, see Living Well After Cancer.

Side effects of treatment for breast cancer can vary. Some people will experience just a few side effects, while others will have more.

Once cancer treatment finishes, many people worry about the cancer coming back. See If breast cancer returns about recurrence or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to talk through your concerns.

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Listen to podcasts on Cancer Affects the Carer Too and Managing Cancer Fatigue

Dealing with feelings of sadness

If you have continued feelings of sadness, have trouble getting up in the morning or have lost motivation to do things that previously gave you pleasure, you may be experiencing depression. This is quite common among people who have had cancer.

Talk to your GP, as counselling or medication – even for a short time – may help. Some people can get a Medicare rebate for sessions with a psychologist. Ask your doctor if you are eligible. Cancer Council may also run a counselling program in your area.

For information about coping with depression and anxiety, call beyondblue on 1300 22 46 36. For 24-hour crisis support, call Lifeline 13 11 14.

Follow-up appointments

After your treatment, you will have regular appointments with your cancer specialist to monitor your health, see how you are going on hormone therapy if this is part of your treatment, manage any long-term side effects, and check that the cancer hasn’t come back or spread. During these check-ups, you will usually have a physical examination.

Check-ups after breast cancer treatment are likely to happen every 3–6 months for the first year or two, and will become less frequent after that if you have no further problems.

Most women will have a mammogram every year. It is best to arrange this through your cancer specialist, who can also organise ultrasounds and other scans if needed. If your specialist is concerned the cancer may have come back, you may have a CT scan, chest x-ray or bone scan. Otherwise, you won’t need any regular scans apart from the yearly mammogram and ultrasound tests.

When a follow-up appointment or test is approaching, many people find that they think more about the cancer and may feel anxious. Talk to your treatment team or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 if you are finding it hard to manage this anxiety. You may also be interested in listening to our podcasts on cancer tests and managing fear.

Between follow-up appointments, let your specialist know immediately of any symptoms or health problems. You can also see your GP if you have any questions and for ongoing support.

Looking after yourself

Cancer can cause physical and emotional strain, so it’s important to look after your wellbeing. Cancer Council has free booklets and programs to help you during and after treatment. Call 13 11 20 to find out more, or see Managing Cancer Side Effects, Exercise During Cancer Treatment and Living Well After Cancer.

This information was last reviewed in August 2018
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