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Getting Medical Care After Cancer Treatment

All cancer survivors should have follow-up care. Knowing what to expect after cancer treatment can help you and your family make plans, lifestyle changes and important decisions.

Some common questions you may have are:

  • Should I tell the doctor about symptoms that worry me?
  • Which doctors should I see after treatment?
  • How often should I see the doctor?
  • What tests do I need?
  • What can be done to relieve pain, fatigue or other problems after treatment?
  • How long will it take for me to recover from treatment and feel more like myself?

Dealing with these issues can be a challenge. Yet many say that getting involved in decisions about their future medical care and lifestyle was a good way for them to regain some of the control they felt they lost during cancer treatment. Research has shown that people who feel more in control feel and function better than those who do not. Being an active partner with your doctor and getting help from other members of your health care team is the first step.

What Is Follow-up Care?

Follow-up care means seeing a doctor for regular medical checkups. Your followup care depends on the type of cancer and type of treatment you had, along with your overall health. It is usually different for each person who has been treated for cancer.

In general, survivors usually return to the doctor every 3 to 4 months during the first 2 to 3 years after treatment, and once or twice a year after that. At these visits, your doctor will look for side effects from treatment and check if your cancer has returned (recurred) or spread (metastasized) to another part of your body.

At these visits, your doctor will:

  • Review your medical history
  • Give you a physical exam

Your doctor may run follow-up tests:

  • MRI or CT scans – These scans take detailed pictures of areas inside the body at different angles.
  • Endoscopy – This test uses a thin, lighted tube to examine the inside of the body.
  • Blood tests

Follow-up care can also include home care, occupational or vocational therapy, pain management, physical therapy, and support groups.

Medical Records

Be sure to ask your oncologist for a written summary of your treatment. In the summary, he or she can suggest what aspects of your health need to be followed. Then, share this summary with any new doctors you see, especially your primary care doctor, as you discuss your follow-up care plan.

Many people keep their medical records in a binder or folder and refer to them as they see new doctors. This keeps key facts about your cancer treatment in the same place. Other kinds of health information you should keep include:

  • The date you were diagnosed
  • The type of cancer you were treated for
  • Pathology report(s) that describe the type and stage of cancer
  • Details of all surgeries
  • Sites and total amounts of radiation therapy
  • Names and doses of chemotherapy and all other drugs
  • Key lab reports, x-ray reports, CT scans, and MRI reports
  • List of signs to watch for and possible long-term effects of treatment
  • Contact information for all health professionals involved in your treatment and follow-up care
  • Any problems that occurred during or after treatment
  • Information about supportive care you received (such as special medicines, emotional support, and nutritional supplements)

Always tell any new doctors you see about your history of cancer. The type of cancer you had and your treatment can affect decisions about your care in the future. They may not know about your cancer unless you tell them.

Be sure to give any new doctors that you see a copy of your treatment summary or medical records.

Aetna Members: If you are a female member of an HMO-based plan and would like more information about breast cancer and breast cancer prevention, please call (888) 322 8742.

Miembros de Aetna: Si tiene un plan HMO y desea más información sobre el cáncer de seno y la prevención del cáncer de seno, por favor llame al 1-888-322-8742.

Last updated April 2, 2010