After your treatment has finished, you will be advised about regular check-ups. These will allow your doctor to monitor your health and wellbeing. Follow-up care differs depending on the type of cancer and treatment and the side effects experienced.
Many treatment centres now work with people as they approach the end of their treatment to develop survivorship care plans. These care plans are designed to set out a clear schedule for follow-up care and ensure that any medical and psychosocial problems which may develop after treatment are identified and managed. For more information or to develop your own survivorship care plan, visit www.livestrongcareplan.org or www.journeyforward.org.
Ask your surgeon or oncologist for a written summary of your cancer type, treatment and plans for follow-up care. A copy should be given to your GP and other health care providers.
This summary should include the following information:
During check-ups your doctor may:
Blood tests and scans may be required, e.g. mammograms for women treated for breast cancer and Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) tests for men treated for prostate cancer. Not everyone will require or benefit from ongoing tests. It is important to be honest with your doctors so that they can help you manage any problems you may be having. For example, tell them if you feel low in mood or energy.
If you see a news story about cancer and you want to know if this research or information could be relevant to you, note down some of the details and ask your doctor about it at your next check-up.
The frequency of check-ups depends on the type of cancer and treatment you had, and your general health. Some people have check-ups every 3–6 months for the first few years after treatment, then less often after that. Talk to your doctors about what to expect and ask if Australian guidelines exist for your follow-up care.
If you are worried or notice any new symptoms between appointments, contact your doctor right away. Don’t wait until your next booked appointment.
You may have follow-up appointments with your specialist, GP or a combination of both. Often, your GP will provide your primary follow-up care, and liaise with specialists if needed. You will still need to see your GP to monitor your overall health e.g. checking your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight.
You may also need to see other allied health professionals such as a psychologist/counsellor, oncology social worker, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, exercise physiologist, dietitian, speech pathologist or specialist nurse.
It may help to write down any questions you have and take this list with you to your appointment (see the list of suggested questions). If your doctor uses medical terms you don’t understand, ask for them to explain in plain English. If you have several questions or concerns, ask for a longer appointment when booking. Taking notes or making an audio recording during the consultation can also help you to remember what was discussed.
Many people like to have a family member or friend go with them for emotional support or to take part in the discussion. You may wish to ask them to take notes or simply wait in the waiting room.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you have:
You can also talk to your health care team about other issues. For example, you may want to talk about changes to your sex life, how cancer has affected your relationships, or practical issues such as returning to work or financial difficulties.
You may want to ask about a referral to see an allied health professional, such as a dietitian, psychologist, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist. You should tell each health professional you see about your cancer diagnosis and treatment, as this may affect the treatment they give you.
Many cancer survivors say they feel anxious before routine check-ups. Anxiety, sleeping problems, poor appetite, mood swings and increased aches and pains are common in the lead-up to an appointment.
You may feel anxious before check-ups because:
You may find check-ups easier once you have had a few and things are going okay.
In the meantime, finding ways to cope with your anxiety before check-ups may help. You may find some of the coping strategies below helpful in easing your anxiety.
"You do get nervous and you tell yourself it's only a check-up – but it becomes this mountain. I have my scans on the Monday and see the doctor on the Wednesday, because I can't handle having to wait for the results any longer." — Georgina