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The following information was developed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and is presented on cancer.org as part of a collaboration between the American Cancer Society and ASCO. Both organizations have long shared a commitment to empowering people with information about cancer they can trust. Learn more about this collaboration and how it will help advance that goal. Used with permission. ©2005-2022.
Cancer care does not end when you finish treatment. You will continue seeing your health care team for what doctors call "follow-up care." They will watch for signs of the cancer coming back, manage any side effects from treatment, and check your general health.
You and your health care team will work together to plan your follow-up care. Your plan will be designed just for you, and it will guide your health care for the months and years after treatment. It will probably include regular physical examinations and medical tests.
A follow-up care plan is often based on the medical guidelines for your specific type and stage of cancer. Your doctor will also keep your needs and wishes in mind when planning follow-up care.
Having a follow-up care plan can help you feel more in control as you go back to your everyday life after treatment and over time. When you have a medical support system in place, it can help you feel better physically and emotionally.
Watching for signs of cancer is an important part of follow-up care. Your doctor will check for recurrence, which is cancer that comes back after treatment. Cancer can come back when very small areas of cancer cells are still in the body and cannot be seen on test results. These cells may grow until they show up on test results or cause symptoms.
The chance that a cancer will come back depends on the type you originally had and other factors. This also determines when and where the cancer is likely to recur. Unfortunately, no doctor can be certain if your cancer will come back or not. But a doctor who knows your medical history can talk with you about the risk and suggest ways to lower it.
A second cancer is a new cancer that happens in someone who has had cancer before. It is a different type of cancer than the cancer that was original diagnosed. Your risk of developing a second cancer depends on many factors, but it is important to watch for signs of a second cancer.
During your follow-up visits, your doctor will ask specific questions about your health. You might also have blood tests or imaging tests. Testing depends on several factors:
You probably expect to have some side effects during cancer treatment. But you may be surprised to have some that continue after treatment. These are called long-term side effects. Some side effects may not happen until months or even years after treatment ends, called late effects. Long-term and late effects of cancer and cancer treatment can include physical and emotional changes.
Talk with your health care team about your risk of developing these types of effects from treatment. Your risk will depend on the type of cancer you had, the treatment you received, and your overall health. If you had a treatment that is known to cause specific late effects, your follow-up care might include certain tests. Examples include:
Ask your doctor about the most appropriate tests for you. Learn more about side effects of cancer treatments and ways to manage them.
You might continue to see the doctor who treated you for cancer after treatment ends. Or you might see your family doctor or another health care professional. Who you see depends on several factors, including:
Information about your specific cancer diagnosis and the treatment(s) you received is valuable to all health care professionals who will care for you during your lifetime. You might want to fill out a cancer treatment summary. A member of your health care team may be able to help you with this.
ASCO offers forms to keep track of the cancer treatment you received and your doctor's recommendations for follow-up care.
Cancer treatment summaries usually include:
Information about the treatments you received and follow-up care recommendations are especially important to your primary care doctor. They may not have been part of your regular cancer care team. These forms will help them supervise your follow-up care and make sure your health is on track. Keeping this information is also helpful in case you change doctors in the future.
Consider asking your health care team these questions about your follow-up care.
This information was originally published at https://www.cancer.net/survivorship/follow-care-after-cancer-treatment/importance-follow-care.