After your treatment has finished, you will usually have regular follow-up appointments (check-ups), and possibly scans or x-rays.
The aim of your follow-up appointments is to make sure everything is going well and find out if you have any concerns. These appointments helps your doctor or nurse notice any possible problems early on.
How often you have follow-up care depends on different things. This includes the type and stage of the cancer, the types of treatment you have had and your individual needs. It also depends on the arrangements at the hospital you attend.
You may feel worried before an appointment. Going back to hospital can be a difficult reminder of what you have been through. But it can also be a positive reminder that you are getting back to everyday life. People are often reassured after their visit.
There are different types of follow-up care. Most people are followed up at the hospital with their cancer doctor, surgeon or nurse. Other people may just see their GP for follow-up appointments.
Check-ups are usually every few months in the first year. After the first year, you will have fewer check-ups. You may not need to continue going to the hospital in the future.
Some people may have their follow-up over the telephone with a specialist nurse, instead of going to a clinic. Or you may be asked to contact your healthcare team when you need support or have a new problem or concern.
Your cancer doctor or nurse will usually tell you the type of follow-up care you will have. You may decide together what would be best for your situation.
Your cancer team may examine you and do some simple tests, such as taking a blood sample. They will usually ask questions about your recovery and any side effects or symptoms you have been experiencing.
If you want more information about your treatment or follow-up care, you can ask for copies of the letters your cancer team sends to your GP. You can also ask for your treatment summary to be sent to you.
It is very important to go to your appointments. If you cannot go because you are not feeling well, tell the clinic. They can arrange another appointment for you.
Your cancer team can refer you to other services if you need specialist help. For example, you may be referred to a psychologist or counsellor for emotional help, or a physiotherapist for advice on exercising.
Tips for getting the most from your follow-up appointment
- Write down your main questions before your appointment. You can also write down the answers when you are there, if it helps you remember them.
- Take someone with you for support and to help remember what was said.
- Always let your doctor or nurse know about any ongoing or new symptoms, or other health worries. Be open and honest with your doctors and nurses. They need information from you to give you the best care.
- Tell them how you are coping with your emotions. They can give you advice or direct you to the right place for support.
- Let them know about any prescribed or non-prescribed medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, minerals, or herbal or complementary therapies. Occasionally, these can interfere with other drugs, including some anti-cancer treatments.
Telephone clinics run by specialist cancer nurses are becoming a more common and effective type of follow-up care. It can help you avoid long journeys and waits in hospital clinics. Having fewer hospital visits may also help some people feel less anxiety.
You may have regular appointments when your nurse phones you and asks some questions. Or you may have an arrangement where you contact your nurse if there is anything you are worried about.
You will still have any regular tests or scans if you need them. If your nurse thinks anything needs to be checked further, they will arrange for you to see your cancer doctor immediately.
This type of follow-up is sometimes called self-management. Your nurse will give you information to help you manage your health. This could include information on:
Self-management allows you to be more in control of your care. But you can always contact your healthcare team for help if you need it.
If you are offered this type of follow-up care, always make sure you contact your nurse if you are worried about anything. If you do not get in touch, they will assume that you are fine.
Some GPs may have an agreement with the hospital to share your cancer follow-up care after treatment. They may also prescribe some of the drugs you need.
Your cancer team will send your GP a report about your treatment. You should always tell your GP about any problems you need help with.
Remember to continue going to any regular checks you usually have at your GP surgery. It is important to look after your general health as you begin to recover.