Follow-up care

Tuesday 1 April, 2014

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On this page: Your treatment summary | Common questions | Managing anxiety before check-ups 


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.

Your treatment summary

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:

  • cancer type
  • date of diagnosis
  • diagnostic tests results and pathology results, including cancer stage and grade, and tumour marker information
  • full treatment details
  • symptoms to watch for and possible long-term side effects
  • contact details for the health professionals involved in your treatment and follow-up care.

Common Questions

What do post treatment check-ups involve?

During check-ups your doctor may:

  • assess your recovery
  • ask how you’re feeling and coping with life after cancer
  • monitor and treat any ongoing side effects
  • look for any signs that the cancer may be coming back
  • investigate any new symptoms
  • perform a physical examination
  • ask if you have any concerns or questions
  • discuss your general health and give healthy lifestyle advice refer you to other health professionals and services, as necessary (such as a dietitian, psychologist, physiotherapist). 

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. 

How often do I need check-ups?

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. 

Who do I see for follow-up care? 

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.

How can I prepare for check-ups? 

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:

  • difficulty doing everyday activities
  • any new symptoms
  • new aches or pains that seem unrelated to an injury, or usual ones that have become worse
  • changes in weight or appetite
  • feelings of anxiety or depression
  • other health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis
  • new medications you are taking or other complementary or alternative  treatments you are using.

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.

Managing anxiety before check-ups

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 might fear that you’ll be told the cancer has come back
  • going back to hospital brings back bad memories
  • you feel vulnerable and fearful just when you were feeling more in control
  • other people (friends or family) make comments that upset you.

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
Coping with check-ups
  • Take a close friend or relative with you to your check-ups.
  • Share your fears with people close to you.
  • Plan to do something special after your follow-up appointment.
  • Try to see your check-ups as a way of taking care of and protecting yourself. If problems are picked up early they may be easier to treat.
  • Learn mindfulness and meditation skills, or practise deep breathing.
  • Book the first appointment of the day or plan another activity beforehand so you are busy and don’t have time to dwell on the appointment.
  • Stay informed about any new treatments for the type of cancer you had. This may help you feel more optimistic. • Ask if it is possible to see the doctor elsewhere if you are not comfortable going to the hospital or treatment centre.
  • Try to book tests close to your next doctor’s appointment.

Key points

  • Many cancer survivors say they feel anxious before their routine check-ups.
  • Follow-up care is usually different for each person and depends on the type of cancer and treatment you had, and any long-term side effects you are having.
  • You may have a physical examination, blood test and scans as part of the checkup. Although not everybody needs these.
  • Having a clear follow-up plan and asking your doctor what to expect at your follow up appointments may help you feel less anxious.
  • Ask your surgeon or oncologist for a copy of your treatment summary. This will provide medical guidance for your GP and other health care providers.
  • Follow-up care may be provided by your GP, the doctor who first treated your cancer or both. Your GP can also help to coordinate your care and check your general health. You may also want to see other health professionals such as a physiotherapist, psychologist, dietitian or specialist cancer nurse.
  • It’s a good idea to work with your treatment team to develop a survivor care plan.

Reviewed by: A/Prof Jane Turner, Department of Psychiatry, University of Queensland; Polly Baldwin, Cancer Council Nurse, Cancer Council South Australia; Ben Bravery, Cancer Survivor, NSW; Helen Breen, Oncology Social Worker, Shoalhaven Cancer Services, NSW; A/Prof Michael Jefford, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Clinical Director, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre; David Larkin, Clinical Cancer Research Nurse, Canberra Region Cancer Centre; Miranda Park, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Cancer Information and Support Service, Cancer Council Victoria; Merran Williams, Nurse, Bloomhill Integrated Cancer Care, QLD; Iwa Yeung, Physiotherapist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Danny Youlden, Biostatistician, Viertel Cancer Research Centre, Cancer Council Queensland.
Updated: 01 Apr, 2014