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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Options for early breast cancer follow-up in primary and secondary care - a systematic review

Frances Taggart1*, Peter Donnelly2 and Janet Dunn1

Author Affiliations

1 Warwick Medical School Clinical Trials Unit, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK

2 Breast Care Directorate, South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Lawes Bridge, Torquay, TQ2 7AA, UK

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BMC Cancer 2012, 12:238  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-238

Published: 13 June 2012



Both incidence of breast cancer and survival have increased in recent years and there is a need to review follow up strategies. This study aims to assess the evidence for benefits of follow-up in different settings for women who have had treatment for early breast cancer.


A systematic review to identify key criteria for follow up and then address research questions. Key criteria were: 1) Risk of second breast cancer over time - incidence compared to general population. 2) Incidence and method of detection of local recurrence and second ipsi and contra-lateral breast cancer. 3) Level 1–4 evidence of the benefits of hospital or alternative setting follow-up for survival and well-being. Data sources to identify criteria were MEDLINE, EMBASE, AMED, CINAHL, PSYCHINFO, ZETOC, Health Management Information Consortium, Science Direct. For the systematic review to address research questions searches were performed using MEDLINE (2011). Studies included were population studies using cancer registry data for incidence of new cancers, cohort studies with long term follow up for recurrence and detection of new primaries and RCTs not restricted to special populations for trials of alternative follow up and lifestyle interventions.


Women who have had breast cancer have an increased risk of a second primary breast cancer for at least 20 years compared to the general population. Mammographically detected local recurrences or those detected by women themselves gave better survival than those detected by clinical examination. Follow up in alternative settings to the specialist clinic is acceptable to women but trials are underpowered for survival.


Long term support, surveillance mammography and fast access to medical treatment at point of need may be better than hospital based surveillance limited to five years but further large, randomised controlled trials are needed.