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‘Finishing breast cancer treatment is often the hardest part of the whole experience’

It’s crucial to support women who are dealing with altered body image, anxieties about the disease returning and long-term emotional side effects 

It’s crucial to support women who are dealing with altered body image, anxieties about the disease returning and long-term emotional side effects 


Picture: iStock

At Breast Cancer Care, we regularly hear from women who feel devastated and demoralised at the end of their hospital-based treatment for breast cancer. This is a time when they and their families had expected to feel relieved and on top of the world. However, the reality is that many women instead feel traumatised by what they’ve been through and fearful about the future. This is all while dealing with their friends and family’s expectation that they should be ‘back to normal’.

For many, finishing treatment is often the hardest part of the whole experience. Women are dealing with altered body image, anxieties about the cancer returning and debilitating long-term side effects that disrupt identities and shatter confidence.

‘Letting women with breast cancer know they might start feeling low, anxious or even depressed, and that these feelings are normal, will empower them to seek help if problems do become evident’

Long-term anxiety

In July this year, our charity published a survey which revealed that a little more than eight in ten women with breast cancer in England are not told about the possibility of developing long-term anxiety and depression by their healthcare team. This is despite one third of the 2,862 women with primary breast cancer who were surveyed experiencing anxiety after their diagnosis and treatment, and almost half continuously fearful that the cancer may return.

The long-term emotional effect of breast cancer can rob women who were previously confident and capable of their ability to cope, making day-to-day life a huge challenge as they re-enter the world following treatment. The thought of going back to work can be panic-inducing. Sex lives change or halt as side effects of treatment make navigating day-to-day life an ordeal.    

Joining forces

To ensure people are prepared for the transition, Breast Cancer Care and Mind have partnered to call for everyone with breast cancer to be told about the potential long-term emotional effect of the disease by their healthcare team, and be offered mental health support for when they need it. The joint call forms part of Breast Cancer Care's Care After Breast Cancer campaign which is pushing for improved end of treatment care and support.

‘With more and more women surviving breast cancer, it’s crucial we ensure they are getting the support they need to manage these life-changing and long-lasting effects’

Letting women with breast cancer know they might start feeling low, anxious or even depressed, and that these feelings are normal, will empower them to seek help if problems do become evident.

It is crucial that women know where to find support whenever they need it. This could be psychological services within the health service itself, or with organisations like ours. For example, Breast Cancer Care’s Moving Forward courses, which are run in partnership with the NHS, are specifically tailored to support women with breast cancer adapt to life after treatment. 

Appropriate support

Finding time to talk about mental health and signpost people to appropriate support is easier said than done, particularly if they don’t need it yet. We know there are huge demands on every single person working in the NHS and, rightly, the priority is about treating cancer. Yet, any gaps in support will only add pressure to the NHS further down the line.

With more and more women surviving breast cancer, it’s crucial we ensure they are getting the support they need to manage these life-changing and long-lasting effects. It’s vital we work together to identify the opportunities to have conversations about emotional well-being to ensure that thousands of women are able to live well.

Further information


About the author

Rachel Rawson is a clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care

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