The end of active cancer treatment is a welcome arrival for most patients, but it can also be a time of concern. After seeing doctors regularly for many weeks or months, the transition to a life less cluttered with physician appointments can be unsettling. So what are the best steps to take when active treatment ends?
For starters, you’ll want to meet with your cancer care team and ask for a treatment summary and survivorship care plan. These documents should outline your cancer diagnosis, describe the medical care that you received during treatment, and outline follow-up screenings you might need. This information can help your primary care physician know what to look for and what health screenings to recommend during regular checkups.
Talk with an expert in survivorship. Visit a specialized survivorship program or service to help you find the right follow-up care and take steps to live well beyond cancer. A survivorship provider can help you address any issues related to late- or long-term side effects that may result from your cancer treatment, physical problems (such as pain, fatigue, weight changes, or lymphedema), as well as emotional health (such as depression, anxiety, or fear of recurrence).
See your family doctor regularly. After treatment, it’s still important to get regular checkups with your primary care physician. These visits can help you and your doctor address potential side effects from treatment, and go over any preventive measures that may stop future health problems from occurring. Be sure to tell your doctor about any symptoms you’ve noticed or questions and concerns that may have arisen since your previous visit.
Expand your safety net. Friends and family can be a wonderful source of support during and after treatment, but you can also ask your doctor or cancer care team how to find more structured services that can help you after treatment ends – including individual counseling, nutritionists, exercise specialists, and support groups.
See your cancer care team for follow-up care as often as they recommend. The same doctor who cared for you during cancer treatment will likely want to see you every so often to check on your health status and make sure your cancer hasn’t returned. For the first few years after active treatment ends, you may see your doctor every three to four months, then less often after that.
Your doctor or other members of your health-care team, such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, will have you schedule routine follow-up visits to check on your overall health and monitor for any late- or long-term side effects that can result from treatment. They’ll also assess you for any signs of disease recurrence. Initially, you will likely be seen every one to three months. Depending on your health, these visits will gradually be scheduled less often.
The Adult Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber provides clinical care and services for adult cancer survivors. To make an appointment or learn more, call 617-632-4523 or email DFCI_adultsurvivors@dfci.harvard.edu.