Being aware of symptoms

Worrying about cancer coming back is very common. Ask your doctor or nurse if there are any symptoms you should look out for after treatment finishes.

Feeling worried about cancer

When treatment has finished, it is common to worry that every ache and pain you have is linked to cancer. You will still be getting used to what now feels normal for you. You will also get the usual aches and pains that most people get. This means it can be hard to know what you need to pay attention to.

How do I know if my cancer is back?

Most people have follow-up appointments with their cancer doctor for months, or years, after treatment. These appointments may include tests and scans. If the cancer comes back, tests and scans can help find it early.

Some cancer types have a higher risk of coming back. Your doctor will talk to you about the risk of the cancer coming back.

Ask your cancer team about:

Knowing more can help you manage any worries you may have. Make sure you have any symptoms checked, even if you think they are not serious. Tell your cancer team if you have any new symptoms, or symptoms like those you had when you were diagnosed.

You can also see your GP if there is anything you are not sure about. You can have symptoms because of other things, not just the cancer. Your GP can check your symptoms and refer you for advice if needed.

You do not have to wait until your follow-up appointment to contact your cancer team. Make sure you have their contact numbers so you can get in touch with them if you need to. 

Your cancer team can reassure you if your symptoms are most likely to be from your treatment. They can also arrange to see you if they need to.

It is important to be aware of changes in your body. But constantly checking for symptoms or changes can make you feel anxious. If you find yourself doing this, talk to someone from your cancer team or your primary care team. They can get you the support you need.

Worrying about cancer coming back

Worrying about the cancer coming back is common after treatment. Many people struggle to cope with feelings of uncertainty. It can be hard to deal with these feelings if you have them. But they often get better with time.

Certain things may trigger these feelings, for example going back to the hospital for a test or reading or hearing something about cancer in the news.

You can manage worry and uncertainty in different ways. Try not to worry about things that may never happen. Instead, you might find that focusing on what you can control and do now can help. This could include:

If you are still feeling worried or finding it difficult to cope, talk to your cancer team or primary care team. They can give you advice on ways to manage anxiety. They can also refer you to any extra support you may need.

If cancer comes back

If cancer comes back after treatment, it is often possible to treat it again. Treatment can often control the cancer, sometimes for many months or years. Treatment to control the cancer is called palliative care. For some people, treatment may aim to get rid of the cancer again.

You will usually have some time to think about your treatment options. It can help to discuss these with your family and friends, as well as the doctors and nurses looking after you. It is important to make the treatment decision that feels right for you.

Finding out that cancer has come back can be a shock. Everyone has their own way of coping with this.

Our cancer support specialists can also give you information and emotional support. Call them on 0808 808 00 00. You may find it helpful to talk to someone you do not know and who is not emotionally involved in your situation. Your family or friends may find this helpful too.

Why does cancer come back?

Sometimes, cancer can come back in the same area of the body. This is called a local recurrence. Or the cancer can come back in a different area of the body. This is called secondary cancer or metastasis. Recurrent and secondary cancers are sometimes called advanced cancer.

Sometimes after treatment, tiny cancer cells can stay in the body. Over time, they may start to divide and grow again to form a cancer. This means cancer can come back (recur). Sometimes, this happens many years later.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our after treatment information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at  cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    European Society for Medical Oncology: Supporting self-management of patients and family members. 2019. 

    Macmillan Cancer Support. Providing personalised care for people living with cancer: a guide for professionals providing holistic needs assessments, care and support planning. 2019. 

    Maher, J et al. Implementation of nationwide cancer survivorship plans: Experience from the UK. Journal of Cancer Policy. 2018. Vol 15, pp 76-81.       


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.