What is Follow-Up Care?
The main purpose of follow-up care is to check if your cancer has returned (recurrence) or if it has spread to another part of your body (metastasis). Follow-up care can also help in:
- Finding other types of cancer
- Spotting side effects from treatment now or that can develop years after treatment
Follow-up care means seeing a doctor to get regular medical checkups. At these visits, your doctor will:
- Review your medical history
- Examine your body
Your doctor may run follow-up tests:
- Imaging procedures (ways of producing pictures of areas inside the body)
- Endoscopy (the use of a thin, lighted tube to examine organs inside the body)
- Blood tests
Follow-up care can also include home care, occupational or vocational therapy, pain management, physical therapy, and support groups.
Which Doctor Should I See and How Often?
You will need to decide which doctor will provide your cancer follow-up care and which one(s) will provide other medical care. For follow-up cancer care, this may be the same doctor who provided your cancer treatment. For other medical care, you can continue to see your family doctor or medical specialist as needed.
Depending on where you live, it may make more sense to get cancer follow-up care from your family doctor than to travel long distances to see an oncologist. No matter whom you choose as a doctor, try to find doctors you feel comfortable with.
At your first follow-up visit, ask your doctor to recommend a follow-up schedule. In general, people who have been treated for cancer return to the doctor every 3 to 4 months during the first 2 to 3 years after treatment, and once or twice a year after that for follow-up appointments. Some medical organizations also have follow-up guidelines for certain cancers and update this information as researchers develop new approaches to follow-up care.
Follow-up care will be different for each person who has been treated for cancer, depending on the type of cancer and treatment he or she had and the person's general health. Researchers are still learning about the best approaches to follow-up care. This is why it is important that your doctor help determine what follow-up care plan is right for you. Lastly, it is important to note that some insurance plans pay for follow-up care only with certain doctors and for a set number of visits. In planning your follow-up care schedule, you may want to check your health insurance plan to see what restrictions, if any, apply to your follow-up care after cancer treatment.
Keep in Mind
Some people may suspect that their cancer has returned, or they notice other changes in their bodies. It is important for you to be aware of any changes in your health and report any problems to your doctor. Your doctor can find out whether these problems are related to the cancer, the treatment you had, or another health problem. Even if you learn that your cancer has returned, there is no reason to lose hope. Many people live good lives for many years with cancer that has returned.
Do You Have Trouble Talking to Your Doctor
It is not always easy to talk with your doctor. Sometimes, he or she uses terms you do not know. When this happens, it is important to stop and ask the doctor to explain what the words mean. You may be afraid of how you will sound to the doctor, but having questions is perfectly normal.
Talking with your doctor is important. Both of you need information to manage your care. Telling the doctor about your health and asking questions helps both of you do your "jobs" well. Here are some points to cover.
At your first follow-up visit, ask your doctor/health care team about:
- The tests and follow-up care you need, and how often you will need them.
- The kinds of physical problems you may have from your cancer treatment and what you can do to prevent, reduce, or solve them. T
- he potential long-term effects of treatment and the warning signs that you might have them.
- The warning signs that cancer may be coming back and what to do if you see them.
- Fears you may have about follow-up care.
Keep in Mind
Many survivors want to learn about symptoms that may indicate their cancer has come back, or recurred.
There are many types of symptoms that may show if cancer has returned, and it depends on each person, the kind of cancer she/he was treated for, and the kind of treatment he/she had.
It is for this reason that you should talk to your doctor about the signs or symptoms that you should watch for and what you should do about them.
At each visit, tell your doctor/health care team about:
- Symptoms that you think may be a sign of cancer's return.
- Any pain that troubles you.
- Any physical problems that get in the way of your daily life or that bother you, such as fatigue, trouble sleeping, loss of sex drive, or weight gain or loss.
- Other health problems you have, such as heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis.
- Any medicines, vitamins, or herbs you are taking and any other treatments you are using.
- Any emotional problems you may have, and any anxiety or depression you have had in the past.
- Any changes in your family medical history.
- Things you want to know more about (such as new research or side effects).
Your health care team should be able to help you or refer you to someone who can help with any side effects or problems you may have. You have a right to get the help you need.