Follow-Up Care

After your treatment is finished, you’re understandably ready to get back to normal life. Many cancer survivors discover that life after cancer is a “new” normal that requires visits to your healthcare team to monitor your health, manage short- and long-term physical and emotional changes and side effects, and to make sure the cancer has not come back.

Short-term needs may include:

  • Creating a personalized follow-up plan. Your healthcare team can help determine this guide to monitor your health, which will include when you should have appropriate cancer screenings, when appointments to your regular doctors and oncologists should happen, and how you can continue to make healthy choices like exercise and proper nutrition.
  • Checking for recurrence. A main reason to be diligent with follow-up care is so your healthcare team can check to see if cancer come back after treatment. This happens when small areas of cancer cells stay in the body but are not detected, then multiply until they show up on test results or cause signs or symptoms. The more regularly you see your healthcare team, the more efficiently they can check you for signs of recurrence and let you know what specific signs or symptoms to watch for.
  • Necessary testing. Your doctor will ask specific questions about your health during follow-up care, and your regular follow-up may include blood or imaging tests depending on:
    • Type and stage of cancer
    • Types of treatment
    • Medical evidence showing if testing improves health

Long-term care needs may include:

  • Managing ongoing and late side effects. Depending on the type of cancer and treatment you have, some side effects may go on past your treatment period, and other side effects could develop months or even years afterwards, resulting in physical and emotional changes.
  • Where to receive follow-up care. Depending on the type and stage of your cancer, the side effects of your treatment, your personal preference and your insurance plan, you might continue to see your oncologist or your primary care doctor after treatment. Talk with your healthcare team and other survivors in your area for advice on how to manage this part of your care.
  • Maintaining detailed health records. Every healthcare provider who sees you, even after your cancer care is over, will need to know details about your diagnosis, treatment plan and follow-up care. This will be particularly important to your primary care doctor, who might not have participated in most of your cancer treatment. The information will help them make sure your health is on track. A treatment summary usually includes:
    • The date you were diagnosed
    • What type of cancer you had (tissue/cell type, stage, and grade – if you have this info
    • Treatment dates
    • Treatments you received - Treatment type, name of drug, dosage of drug or radiation therapy, number of treatment cycles
    • Other medical issues found during your treatment, including side effects and how they were managed
    • Test results received during treatment
    • Names of tests needed after treatment to evaluate your health
    • Recommended schedules of tests needed after treatment to evaluate your health
    • Your personal risks for developing long-term side effects due to your cancer treatment
  • Questions you should ask your doctor. These questions could be useful to ask your doctor when discussing follow-up care:
    • What is the risk of cancer coming back?
    • What signs and symptoms should I watch for?
    • What should I do if I see one of these symptoms?
    • Based on my treatments, should I expect any long-term side effects or late effects?
    • Who will coordinate my follow-up care? Do they have experience with cancer survivors?
    • How often do I need to see you for a follow-up visits?
    • What tests will I need at my follow-up visits?
    • What screenings should I have based on my treatments?
    • How long should I keep getting screened?
    • Now that my treatment is over, do I need to follow a certain diet or take any particular medicines?
    • Do I need your referrals for any specialists?
    • Are there any things I can do to lower my risk of the cancer coming back or developing another type of cancer?
    • Do you have a treatment summary and survivorship care plan available that I can keep for my records?
    • Are any support services available to me or my family for this part of my journey?

As a cancer survivor, in some instances you will need to see your oncologist, but for other needs you can visit your primary care doctor.

  • When to see my oncologist: You should continue to see your oncologist for needs related to cancer, your regular cancer-related follow-up visits and maintenance treatment.
  • When to see my primary care doctor: When you need a physician to monitor and treat other health needs that are unrelated to cancer, like high cholesterol, asthma or obesity, your primary care doctor should take the lead on caring for your needs.

Every cancer patient hopes to hear the word “remission” – and it does indicate a significant step forward in your health. However, there are two types of remission:

  • Partial remission – Your tumor is smaller than before or in some cases the amount in your body has decreased. This may mean you can have a break in treatment if the cancer does not start growing again, but you and your healthcare team should continue to regularly check in for recurrence.
  • Complete remission – According to scans, tests and physicals, every sign of your cancer is gone. Sometimes this is also called “no evidence of disease (NED),” but many healthcare professionals don’t say “cured” because it’s impossible to tell if all of the cancer cells in your body are gone. If cancer cells are going to come back, that usually occurs in the first 5 years after your first diagnosis and treatment.

Just because this part of your cancer journey is complete, you won’t stop receiving help from groups like the American Cancer Society, who offers these tips for how to stay active and healthy after your treatment. Stay in touch with fellow cancer survivors, support groups and healthcare providers to continue your path to well-being.

If you’re looking for a primary care doctor, call (225) 763-4500 or visit BRGPhysicians.