Why follow-up care after cancer remission is so important

Woman battling cancer stands outside

Cancer remission is an incredible milestone, and it can come with a wide range of emotions — relief, joy and even a newfound sense of freedom. However, as you celebrate the end of your cancer treatment, don’t forget the importance of follow-up care.

Whether you’re in partial cancer remission (signs and symptoms of cancer are reduced) or complete cancer remission (signs and symptoms of cancer are completely gone), follow-up care is a key part of staying healthy and preventing the return of cancer.

Here’s a breakdown of cancer follow-up care and what you can expect.

What is follow-up care after cancer remission?

Everyone should visit their health care provider routinely for preventative health screenings and monitoring. If you’re in cancer remission, you should not only see your primary provider on a regular basis, you should also adhere to your individual cancer follow-up care plan. Generally, your cancer follow-up care plan is formulated by your cancer treatment team leader, which might be your medical oncologist, your cancer surgeon or your radiation specialist.

"Your follow-up care plan, which is tailormade to your specific situation, addresses your physical needs, such as symptom management — which can include any pain you’re experiencing. It also helps to educate you to be aware of and monitor for late effects (problems from cancer treatment that can occur months or even years after treatment) as well as warning signs of disease recurrence. Finally, your follow-up care plan will also address social, emotional, financial and other needs," says Ajay Kumar, MD, a hematologist and medical oncologist at Main Line Health.

Follow-up care after cancer remission might include:

  • Blood work
  • Different tests to detect changes in your health (such as colonoscopies and bone marrow biopsies)
  • Scheduled screening/monitoring imaging studies (such as mammograms, ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs and PET-CT)
  • Screening for and treating any problems from cancer treatment
  • Your emotional wellness

In summary, your follow-up care schedule will depend on your individual needs and situation, including what kind of cancer you had, what kind of treatment you received and any other health concerns.

Most patients can expect to see their provider roughly every three to four months during the first few years after treatment. After that, it might drop down to once or twice a year.

Your follow-up care can be managed by the provider who treated you for cancer or in some cases your primary care provider. Either way, make sure your provider shares notes with the rest of your care team to ensure everyone stays in the loop about your health.

What to discuss with your health care provider

One of the many benefits of follow-up care is consistent communication with your health care provider. While they will administer tests and ask questions to monitor your health, you should also remain as open as you can about how you are feeling.

Some things you should tell your provider include:

  • Physical problems such as weight gain/loss, fatigue, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating or problems with bowel, bladder or sexual function
  • Emotional problems such as anxiety or depression
  • New medications, OTC supplements, herbs or vitamins you’re taking
  • Changes or new knowledge in your family medical history
  • Any other symptoms your provider asks you to look for

You can also discuss any questions you have, such as:

  • What is the likelihood of my cancer returning?
  • What specific symptoms should I watch for and what should I do if they occur?
  • What long-term side effects from treatment might I experience?
  • What screening tests should I make sure I have done?
  • Should I take any medications or follow a certain diet?
  • What cancer survivor support services can I take advantage of?

If you notice any changes or have questions between visits, don’t hesitate to reach out to your provider.

"Remember — new symptoms don’t always mean your cancer has returned. It’s normal to feel anxiety every time you feel an ache or pain, but only your care team can determine if these are cause for concern," says Dr. Kumar.

Communication and consistency: The keys to follow-up care after cancer

Cancer remission can come with a great sense of relief, but it’s important to stay vigilant when it comes to your ongoing health. Follow-up care after cancer remission centers on regular communication with your health care team. Making sure to attend these visits as well as remaining aware of your own health will go a long way toward staying healthy.

The benefit of follow-up care is that you’re not alone in managing your health. If you have questions or concerns or just need reassurance, your provider is an excellent support system as you navigate life after cancer.

Next steps:

Make an appointment Ajay Kumar, MD
Learn more about cancer care at Main Line Health
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