Breast Screening

Mammograms after surgery for breast cancer

After surgery for breast cancer women have regular check-ups with their consultants, more frequently in the first year or two than later. Check-ups often include a physical examination; mammograms are usually done no more often than once a year. Check-ups continue for at least five years (see Healthtalk - Breast Cancer website), after which time women will be invited to rejoin the NHS Breast Screening Programme.

Many women we spoke with discussed the check-ups they'd had after surgery. Some had initially gone for check-ups every three months for a year, and then every six months. These appointments were then reduced to once a year. One woman, who was still having chemotherapy, didn't know how often her post-operation check-ups would be or what they'd involve.

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Many women had mixed feelings about having mammograms after surgery. Several said they felt anxious in case more cancer was found, yet reassured when they were told that there were no problems.

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One woman said she felt anxious and vulnerable before going for annual mammograms. She had these in the United States, where she had family, contacts in the medical field and more trust in the medical system.

Some women found follow-up appointments reassuring because they would be examined by a doctor. One felt more reassured seeing an experienced consultant who checked her thoroughly compared to someone more junior. Some women found mammograms after breast cancer surgery less painful, but others found them more uncomfortable. One felt that a year was too long to wait between mammograms.

Waiting for the post-operation mammogram results worried several women. One noted that some consultants at the hospital she attended gave mammogram results to women on the day they'd had the x-ray, while others didn't. She felt that results should be available on the same day as the mammogram and that women shouldn't have to chase them up.

One woman had mammograms done privately because she found waiting for the results so worrying. She also wanted to see the same consultant every time she went for her check-ups, and found that this often didn't happen in the NHS. The longer she survived after having her treatment, the more anxious she felt before a mammogram.

Most women had had no further problems with their breasts. However, one woman said that the first mammogram after her surgery made her anxious because it showed micro-calcifications. These turned out to be harmless and, after that, going for mammograms no longer bothered her. Another woman worried when she had to have a biopsy because of a possible problem on her mastectomy scar. She became very anxious when having to wait a long time for the results, which were inconclusive. She then had an ultrasound scan, which showed that there were no problems. Another was worried by aches and pains and had bone scans to rule out the possibility of secondary bone cancer.

Some women said that, after several years of annual mammograms following their treatment, these were reduced to every two years. By this stage some of these women no longer felt anxious before going for mammograms. Another, who'd had mammograms on the NHS and privately, was considering in which sector she would have her next mammogram.

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When they learnt that their mammogram results were normal, women felt relief. Many were grateful for the NHS resources that went into their treatment and post-operation check-ups.

Last reviewed March 2016.

Last updated November 2010.

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