What is follow-up cancer care, and why is it important?
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.
What should patients tell their doctor during follow-up visits?
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.