After cancer treatment, it is recommended that individuals follow a care plan that will help them manage side effects of treatment therapies, maintain optimal health, and monitor for signs of cancer recurrence or the development of new cancer.
Follow-up care may be provided by your oncologist, but you may also see your primary care physician or other healthcare professionals. There are various aspects to follow-up care. Your doctor will work with you to develop a plan that best meets your needs.
Below, you’ll learn about the different facets involved in post-treatment care.
Monitoring For Side Effects of Treatment Therapies
During regularly scheduled follow-up appointments, your doctor will assess your health in order to understand your risk of developing any long-term side effects that may occur as a result of your treatment therapy. These side effects can occur months, even years after treatment has been completed. This is one reason it’s important to continue to see your doctor as recommended following treatment.
Detecting Signs of Recurrence
Most of the time, cancer recurrence is detected by individuals in between their regularly scheduled follow-up appointments. The following signs and symptoms could indicate cancer recurrence:
● Weight loss or gain
● Loss of appetite
● Difficulty breathing or a persistent cough
● Pain that persists or worsens in the body, such as the bones
● An unusual thickening or lump under the skin
● Changes to the skin or sores that won’t heal
Symptoms will vary depending on where cancer returns: local, regional, or distant. If you experience any of the symptoms described above or if you have any questions regarding something you are experiencing, tell your doctor immediately.
Following Recommendations For Screening Tests
Your doctor will suggest that you follow a testing and screening schedule to monitor for cancer recurrence. It is important to follow these recommendations to give your doctor the best chance at detecting cancer that has returned or a new, different form of cancer.
Types of screening tests that are traditionally performed may include:
● PET scans
● CT scans
● Tests specific to the type of cancer diagnosed, such as regular mammograms for women diagnosed with breast cancer
A new testing technology called a liquid biopsy, used as a cancer detection tool, may also be an option. Using a blood sample, scientists can detect tumor DNA that is circulating in the bloodstream and diagnose cancer recurrence. Liquid biopsy has been shown to provide results that are similar to those received from traditional tumor biopsies.
In fact, for certain types of cancer, this test has been shown to detect cancer recurrence one year before other screening methods such as CT scans. This can also be used to detect and monitor cancer prior to the first diagnosis as well.
Working With Your Cancer Care Team To Create a Follow-Up Care Plan
If you have recently completed cancer treatment and are unsure of what steps to take next, talk to your cancer care team. You will either work directly with them or will be referred to other healthcare professionals who can provide post cancer treatment care.