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Self-management - Breast cancer in women

Breast cancer can affect your life in different ways. It can depend on what stage it is at and the treatment you're receiving.

Everyone copes with their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment differently. There are many types of support if you need it.

You could:

  • talk to your friends and family
  • talk to other people in the same situation
  • find out as much as possible about your cancer
  • avoid doing too much or over-exerting yourself
  • make time for yourself
  • talk to your breast care nurse


You may have an operation (surgery) as part of your treatment. Getting back to normal after surgery can take time.

Take things slowly and give yourself time to recover. During this time, avoid lifting things and doing heavy housework. Your doctor may also tell you not to drive.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can make you very tired.

You may need to take a break from some of your normal activities such as hobbies or housework for a while.

Do not be afraid to ask for help from family and friends. For example, doing housework, getting lifts to and from appointments, doing grocery shopping.

Follow-up care plan

If you've had early breast cancer, your healthcare team will agree a care plan with you after your treatment has finished.

This plan gives details of your follow-up care. It will also be sent to your GP.


After your treatment has finished, you'll be invited for regular check-ups.

During the check-up, someone from your healthcare team will examine you. You will be offered a mammogram every year for the first 5 years after your treatment. This may happen at a separate appointment.

Side effects

Your treatment for breast cancer may cause side effects or new health problems (complications). But these are rare.

They include:

  • tight skin, pain and stiffness in your arms and shoulders after surgery
  • swelling (lymphoedema) after surgery or radiotherapy
  • hot flushes and sweats, mood changesand trouble sleeping from hormonal treatment

Talk to your healthcare team if you have these or any other health problems after treatment.

Your body and breasts after treatment

After getting treatment for breast cancer you may have changes to your breasts and body.

Dealing with changes to your body

Being diagnosed with breast cancer may change how you think about your body.

All women react differently to the changes that happen after breast cancer treatment. It's important to give yourself time to come to terms with any changes to your body.

Early menopause

Most cases of breast cancer happen in women over 50 who have gone through menopause.

Cancer treatment can sometimes cause early menopause in younger women.

Symptoms can include:

  • hot flushes
  • vaginal dryness
  • loss of sexual desire

Talk to your healthcare team about any symptoms you have.

Early menopause

Your breast after a mastectomy

There are 2 ways to replace the shape of your breast if you have a breast removed (mastectomy).

You can:

  • wear a bra insert (external breast prosthesis) inside your bra
  • get breast reconstruction using an implant or tissue from somewhere else in your body

Life after a mastectomy

Relationships and sex

Having breast cancer can affect your relationships and sex life.

Relationships with friends and family

It's not always easy to talk about cancer, either for you or your family and friends. You may sense that some people feel awkward around you or avoid you.

Being open about how you feel and what your family and friends can do to help may put them at ease. Tell them that you need some time to yourself if that's what you need.

Your sex life

Breast cancer and its treatment can affect your sex life.

You may not feel like having sex if you are coping with:

  • treatment that leaves you feeling very tired
  • feeling shocked, confused or depressed about being diagnosed with cancer
  • being upset by the changes to your body
  • grieving the loss of your breast or breasts or, in some cases, fertility

Try to share your feelings with your partner. If you have problems with sex that are not getting better with time, speak to a counsellor or sex therapist.

Getting support

Dealing with cancer can be a huge challenge for you and your family. It can cause emotional and practical difficulties.

You may have to cope with the removal of part or all of a breast as well as treatment side effects. These can be very upsetting.

It often helps to talk about your feelings or other difficulties with a counsellor or therapist. You can ask for this kind of help at any stage of your illness.

If you're feeling depressed

Talk to your GP if you're feeling depressed.

It may help to take antidepressant medicine.

Your GP can also arrange for you to see a counsellor or psychotherapist.

Tips to help with low mood


Tamoxifen and some antidepressants may have a bad interaction.

Support services

If you have had a cancer diagnosis you can get free support services. Your family and carers can use them too.

Local cancer support services -

Cancer support services in Ireland -

You can find out about support services from your breast care nurse, doctor, or GP.

Talking to people

You may find it helpful to talk someone at a specialist helpline.

Your nurse or GP can also put you in touch with other people who have had cancer treatment. This could be at a local support group or an online support group.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 11 October 2023
Next review due: 11 October 2026

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.