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What is follow-up cancer care?



Follow-up cancer care involves regular medical checkups that include a review of a patient’s medical history and a physical exam. Follow-up care may include imaging procedures (methods of producing pictures of areas inside the body), endoscopy (the use of a thin, lighted tube to examine the inside of the body), blood work, and other lab tests.

Follow-up care is important because it helps to identify changes in health. The purpose of follow-up care is to check for recurrence (the return of cancer in the primary site) or metastasis (the spread of cancer to another part of the body). Follow-up care visits are also important to help in the prevention or early detection of other types of cancer, address ongoing problems due to cancer or its treatment, and check for physical and psychosocial effects that may develop months to years after treatment ends. All cancer survivors should have follow-up care.

During each visit, patients should tell their doctor about:

  •     Any symptoms that they think may be a sign that their cancer has returned
  •     Any pain that bothers them
  •     Any physical problems that interfere with daily life or are bothersome, such as fatigue; difficulty with bladder, bowel, or sexual function; difficulty concentrating;  memory changes; trouble sleeping; and weight gain or loss
  •     Any medicines, vitamins, or herbs they are taking and any other treatments they are using
  •     Any emotional problems they are experiencing, such as anxiety or depression
  •     Any changes in their family medical history, including any new cancers


It is important to note that cancer recurrences are not always detected during follow-up visits. Many times, recurrences are suspected or found by patients themselves between scheduled checkups. It is important for patients to be aware of changes in their health and report any problems to their doctor. The doctor can determine whether the problems are related to the cancer, the treatment the patient received, or an unrelated health issue.


How can patients deal with their emotions once cancer treatment is completed?


It is common to experience stress, depression, and anxiety during and after cancer treatment. Many people find it helpful to talk about their feelings with family and friends, health professionals, other patients, members of the clergy, and counselors or therapists. Being part of a support group can provide another outlet for people to share their feelings. Relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery and slow rhythmic breathing, can also help to ease negative thoughts or feelings. Reaching out to others by participating in volunteer activities can help people to feel stronger and more in control. However, people who continue to experience emotional distress should ask their doctor to refer them to someone who can help determine what may be causing or contributing to their distress and how to deal with it.


What other services may be useful during follow-up care?


Other services that may be helpful not just during cancer treatment but also as part of follow-up care include support groups, couples counseling, genetic counseling, fertility/sexual counseling, home care services, nutrition counseling, physical therapy, pain management, and occupational or vocational therapy. Some patients may also need financial aid or assistance with transportation to and from appointments. Information about these and other services is available from local and national cancer organizations, hospitals, local churches or synagogues, the YMCA or YWCA, and local or county government agencies. Patients can also ask their doctor, nurse, or social worker how to find these services.

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