After treatment for breast cancer women are monitored for recurrent disease by means of routine hospital-based follow-up appointments. The aim of this study is to determine the efficiency of this system, by establishing how recurrence presents to our hospital. The study comes at a time of increasing pressure on breast clinics from new patient referrals and the need, since April 1999, to see all cases classified as urgent within two weeks of referral. A consecutive series of 643 patients who presented with operable breast cancer between 1992 and 1998 were reviewed. Details about the 108 patients who had locoregional or metastatic relapse were obtained from our breast cancer database and their clinical records. Full data were available on 104 patients: 77 (74%) were seen at expedited (interval) appointments and a further 18 (17.3%) drew attention to symptoms at a routine visit. Two cases of locoregional recurrence were revealed by surveillance imaging. Unsuspected disease, locoregional in all cases, was detected on examination in 7 (6.7%) patients. The median time to presentation of recurrence was 19 months for metastatic and 18 months for locoregional disease. Breast cancer recurrence usually presents to an interval clinic. Most cases that are confirmed following a routine review are already symptomatic. Long-term routine hospital follow-up after treatment for breast cancer appears inefficient and unnecessary. Following liaison with local general practitioners we propose to discharge patients from routine review after two years. Thereafter they will have scheduled appointments with their GPs with immediate access to specialist review in the breast care unit if required.