Care after cancer treatment
It’s not unusual to feel a bit isolated after treatment, as you have less contact with the doctors and nurses who cared for you. But you’ll still be able to see your specialist doctor or nurse if you have any problems.
Your check-ups (sometimes called follow-up care) will depend on the type of cancer and treatment you had. Your specialist will explain what’s involved.
Care after treatment will vary from person to person. How often you might be seen by a specialist doctor or nurse after treatment is based on your individual situation.
Some people will be seen around 6-8 weeks after their treatment has ended and will continue to be seen regularly. To start with you’ll usually be seen every few months, but this will eventually lessen to once a year. At each appointment, your doctor will examine you and ask questions about your health and how you’ve been feeling. You may also have blood tests, or occasionally scans.
Not everyone is seen as regularly as this. Instead, you may be advised to get in touch with your GP, specialist doctor or nurse if you develop any new problems. Or you may have telephone appointments from time to time. In this situation, you’ll be given advice on which symptoms or side effects to look out for. It may be useful to check with your specialist team to find out who to get in touch with if you notice problems, and to make sure that you have their phone number.
Any tests you need will depend on the type of cancer you have and your individual situation. When treatment ends most people don’t have tests or scans straight away, because they’re not likely to provide any new information at this stage. For some cancers you may need regular tests, but for others you’ll only need one if you develop symptoms.
Some people may have further tests (such as blood tests) but won’t see their specialist doctor afterwards. In this situation, it’s important to ask your doctor how you’ll get the results of these tests and who to contact if you develop any new problems.
Your feelings about follow-up
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If you find out that you’re not going to be seen regularly by your doctor or have regular tests, it may feel very worrying. When a cancer does come back, in most situations it’s first discovered when someone tells their doctor about new symptoms they’re experiencing. For many cancer types, it’s unusual for a returning cancer to be found by scans or blood tests before any symptoms appear.
If you’re worried about not having regular check-ups, speak to your doctor or specialist nurse. They may be able to explain that this is normal for your situation, which you might find reassuring. It can also help to find out which symptoms you should look out for and who to get in touch with if you do notice any.
If you do have symptoms
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The cancer's always there in the background. Not that I've had it in my mind all the time, but you can't completely forget it. It's always there in your life.
If you have symptoms or emotional problems, it’s important to contact your doctor or specialist nurse straight away. Even if you have a regular appointment planned, you don’t have to wait until then. Get in touch as soon as possible, and they can arrange to see you earlier than planned.
After your treatment ends, aches and pains that you would previously have shrugged off may make you worry that the cancer has come back. This is a common reaction and sometimes all you need is some reassurance from your GP. If you find that you’re becoming overwhelmed by fears of the cancer coming back, your GP can arrange some expert help for you.
It’s natural to feel anxious before any appointments. If you do feel this way, you may find support from family, friends or one of the organisations listed on our database.
If you’re going to be seen in person by a specialist doctor or nurse, or if you’ll be speaking to them on the phone, here are some things to help you get the most out of your appointments:
Write down the key questions you want to ask before your appointment.
Write down the answers if it helps you remember them.
Take someone with you. It’s often easier to make sense of what’s been said if there’s someone to discuss it with afterwards. For phone appointments you could have someone with you on speaker phone, or make notes that you can discuss with someone afterwards.
Try to talk openly and honestly during the appointment. Doctors and nurses need information from you to give you the best care.
Let your specialist doctor or nurse know about any ongoing or new symptoms you’re having. Don’t downplay things.
Talk about any emotional problems you have.
Tell your specialist doctor or nurse about any other health concerns you have.
Always let your specialist doctor or nurse know about any medicines that you’re taking - both prescribed and non-prescribed (things you buy yourself). This includes vitamins, minerals, and herbal or complementary medicines.
Although you may feel anxious before your appointment, it’s common to feel reassured afterwards that it’s another step in your recovery.