How will secondary breast cancer affect me emotionally?

A diagnosis of secondary breast cancer can be devastating for you and your family. People find this a distressing and traumatic time.

If you’re living with secondary breast cancer, it’s common to have ups and downs and a range of emotions, including anxiety, depression, anger, uncertainty or feeling isolated.

Your feelings and how you’re coping may change over time. Over half of people with secondary cancer suffer from anxiety and depression. Help is available – ask your GP or treatment team for more information.

Will I need psychological support?

For some people, their inner reserve and support from friends and family helps them to get through periods of sadness and worry.

For others, the psychological impact of their cancer becomes strong enough to affect their ability to do day-to-day things. When this happens, professional services can help.

About two or three out of every 20 patients with secondary cancer get professional help for psychological difficulties. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Psychological support can:

  • Reduce your distress
  • Help you to cope
  • Improve your quality of life
  • Allow you to get back to doing more

Your treatment team should periodically assess your emotional and psychological needs, so you can plan together the support to help you.

Your assessment will cover how cancer is affecting your daily life, your mood, your relationships with others (including sexual) and your work.

What types of support are available?

Your treatment team or GP can refer you to services to provide emotional and psychological support.

They should let you know what informal and formal support is available, and how you can access it.

Support that you might choose to have includes:

  • Counselling services, where you can talk about your problems and feelings
  • Seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Talking to others with secondary breast cancer
  • Getting help from support groups, helplines, online forums and social media groups

Support can be provided by a range of services including hospitals, hospices and local health services. Many people find their clinical nurse specialists or others in their immediate treatment team very supportive too.

Don’t feel your distress has to be bad before you can use psychological services – they’re there for people with lower levels of distress too.

Your team should refer you promptly if you’d like to use these services.

Patient support groups may be of great help, as you’ll be able to talk to people in a similar situation to you about your emotions and your fears.

Support groups can provide inspiration and practical advice too, such as dealing with hair loss. You and your family can also get social support, which can help to ease some strain on you.

For example, this might include help with personal care, cleaning, shopping, help caring for others in the family, and employment and financial advice.

Will I need to take antidepressants or other medications?

If you’re having psychological difficulties (such as depression or anxiety) medications may help.

Your GP, oncologist or palliative care doctor may suggest antidepressants or other medications.

They can provide information to help you make a choice about your treatment, such as its risks and benefits and any additional or alternative treatments available.

Alex shares her overall experience of having secondary breast cancer:

Tips and advice

Advice on getting the best care

To help you feel confident you’re getting the best care, you may want to:

  • Ask for information on where you and loved ones can get support, and the different types of support available
  • Ask for regular assessments of your psychological needs, so that you and your treatment team can plan your care
  • Let your treatment team know how you’re feeling – you don’t have to wait for your next assessment to ask for support

Information Standard

Information last reviewed: October 2015

Next review due: October 2018

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