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Self-care after breast cancer

Breast cancer - women trampingSurvival rates at five years after a breast cancer diagnosis are high. This means that there are many people living life after breast cancer.

Feelings after breast cancer treatment are often mixed. You may feel relief at having come through treatment and being alive, but you may also feel that your mana/spirit has been damaged or taken. You're the most important person in your recovery and taking back control.

After having breast cancer, your risk of having another breast cancer is slightly greater than that of a person who hasn't had breast cancer. This shouldn't affect your outlook, as there are steps that you can take to reduce your risk and pick up on symptoms early.

Although a specialist or your GP may see you for follow up after treatment, your own self checks are the most important tool.

Healing after breast cancer

You may be feeling both physical and emotional effects from the cancer and treatment. You may be struggling to come to terms with changes in your body. Pain from scars and radiation treatment, or swelling called lymphoedema are quite common following breast cancer. If you're struggling with these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor, or breast care nurse as there are treatments that can be helpful.

Anxiety and fatigue are also common problems after treatment. You may want to consider counselling to help you through the process. You can find a counsellor through the Mental Health Education and Resource Centre, or in the Family Services Directory.

After breast cancer, you're eligible for a free flu vaccine. This is recommended to keep you well.


Following simple healthy living steps is essential to both your recovery and preventing cancer. You may have been given anti-cancer medication to help to prevent the breast cancer from returning. These often work by blocking the hormones that can make breast cancers grow.

This video talks about specific risks for breast cancer, and what you can do to reduce them.


Self-awareness is the most important tool in cancer surveillance. Report any new signs or symptoms that are concerning you to your GP, or breast care nurse. Don’t wait until your next appointment to report a concern. Act early.

Check your breasts and breast area every one to two months. Watch this video about looking for skin changes and feeling for lumps.

If you're on anti-cancer medication such as tamoxifen, be aware of any abnormal vaginal bleeding. Also talk to your doctor or breast care nurse if you're struggling with side effects on the medication.

See your doctor early if you develop bone pain, weight loss, night sweats, poor appetite, swelling of your puku/tummy, frequent headaches, changes in your vision, leg swelling, or a cough that doesn’t go away.

After treatment you'll have annual breast screening with mammograms for five years and then you can go back to the BreastScreen Aotearoa National Breast Screening Programme for screening every two years until age 70. There may be slight differences for you, depending on your age and type of cancer.

Getting help

Following diagnosis and initial treatment of breast cancer, you'll be given a survivorship plan. This is a personalised document that outlines your post-cancer treatment, follow-up, and what to look out for.

Your oncologist or surgeon may continue to see you after treatment. However, for some women this may not be necessary and hospital appointments can sometimes be an inconvenient reminder of a difficult time. Talk to your GP and specialist about what feels right for you.

Breast care nurses are available to support you for up to five years after your treatment. You can contact the breast care nurses on (03) 364-1804.

New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation and Cancer Society provide support and advice to people with cancer and their whānau/families. They also have information about other services in your area that you may find helpful. You may be eligible for financial assistance through a disability allowance.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by Breast Surgeon, Canterbury DHB. Page created December 2018. Last updated June 2019.

Page reference: 567219

Review key: HIBCA-57360