What you can expect after your treatment for breast cancer ends.

After you have been treated for breast cancer, your breast care team will continue to support you, helping you deal with the effects of your treatment and making sure that your breast cancer has not come back.

What appointments will I have after treatment?

You will normally have regular follow up appointments once you have finished treatment. A member of your breast care team will check for signs that your breast cancer has come back and discuss whether you are experiencing any side effects from your treatment. They can arrange access to support services if you need them, including psychological support. They will also monitor the progress of any treatments that you are still receiving, such as hormone therapy. If you have any concerns you would like to discuss between follow up appointments, you can contact your breast care nurse.

Follow up appointments can continue for around five years; the length of your follow up will depend on where you live as well as what type of breast cancer you had and the treatments you received. For example, if there is a low risk of your breast cancer coming back your follow up may be shorter.

If you are taking part in a clinical trial, you may have more follow up appointments than normal. This will be fully explained to you before you start the trial.

Open access

In some areas, you may have ‘open access’ follow up. This means you will not have scheduled follow up appointments, but you can contact your breast care team for an appointment any time you have a concern. Research suggests this is just as effective as scheduled appointments, and may cause you less anxiety and be less disruptive.

Open access

In some areas, you may have ‘open access’ follow up. This means you will not have scheduled follow up appointments, but you can contact your breast care team for an appointment any time you have a concern. Research suggests this is just as effective as scheduled appointments, and may cause you less anxiety and be less disruptive.

Will my breast cancer come back?

Your breast care team plan your treatment to reduce the likelihood of your breast cancer returning or spreading. However, breast cancer can sometimes come back after treatment. This is called recurrence.

Recurrences happen when breast cancer cells survive initial treatment and grow into new tumours. The chance of recurrence differs from person to person, and depends on the type of breast cancer you had and how well it responded to treatment.

There are three types of recurrence:

  • Local recurrence – when breast cancer comes back in the same place
  • Regional recurrence – when breast cancer comes back in nearby tissues, for example the skin, chest muscles, breast or collar bone area
  • Distant recurrence (secondary breast cancer) – when breast cancer comes back in other areas of the body such as the lung, liver, brain or bone

Follow up care aims to detect local and regional recurrence, as well as new breast cancers. This helps to ensure that if your breast cancer has come back, it can be treated as early as possible.

If your breast cancer does come back, you will be offered further treatment such as surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. The exact treatments you are given will depend on your new breast cancer and the treatments you have already received. 

What tests will I have for recurrence?

After treatment, you will have regular mammograms (x-rays of your breast) to detect recurrence in your breast. The exact number of mammograms you have may depend on the type of breast cancer you had and the treatment that you received. 

You will normally have an annual mammogram until the age of 50, when you become eligible for routine NHS breast screening mammograms every three years (in some areas of the country you will become eligible at 47).

You will normally have an annual mammogram until the age of 50, when you become eligible for routine NHS breast screening mammograms every three years. 

You will normally have an annual mammogram until the age of 50, when you become eligible for routine NHS breast screening mammograms every three years. 

If you were already using the NHS breast screening programme when you were diagnosed, you will normally have an annual mammogram for five years, after which you will go back to having screening every three years as before.

It is important that you stay breast aware between follow up appointments and mammograms. Most cases of recurrence are picked up by women noticing unusual changes in their breasts and getting them checked by their GP.

You won’t routinely have extra tests for distant recurrence (secondary breast cancer) as part of your follow up, because it has been shown they do not improve survival. Your breast care team should explain the symptoms of secondary breast cancer to look out for. You can find more information in our guide to secondary breast cancer. If you do notice any unusual symptoms, report them to your breast care team or GP. Don’t wait for your next routine appointment to do this.

What if I have a family history of breast cancer?

If other members of your family have experienced breast cancer, you and your family may be able to access specialist family history services. This may include genetic testing to determine whether inherited faults in known breast cancer genes run in your family.

If a family history of breast cancer is confirmed, you may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer again and you may be offered extra screening as part of your follow up. Your family history or genetics specialist can explain your extra screening options.

You may also be offered surgery to help reduce your risk of developing another breast cancer. Risk-reducing surgery can be removal of your breasts (mastectomy), removal of your ovaries (oophorectomy), or both.

You can find more information in our family history guide.

Need more information?

For practical and emotional support you can contact Breast Cancer Care (0808 800 6000) or Macmillan Cancer Support (0808 800 0000)

Need more information?

For practical and emotional support you can contact Breast Cancer Care (0808 800 6000), Macmillan Cancer Support (0808 800 0000), or Tenovus Cancer Care (0808 800 1010)

Both Breast Cancer Care and Maggie’s offer courses to help you adapt to life after breast cancer treatment.

Breast Cancer Care also produces a pack of resources on moving forward after treatment.

Information Standard

Information last reviewed: November 2017

Next review due: November 2020

Breast Cancer Now's health information is covered by NHS England's Information Standard quality mark. Find out how this resource was developed.