After Cancer Treatment

From the day you were diagnosed with cancer, you’ve probably looked forward to getting back to your “normal” life. However, it might take some time to get back into your regular routine after your treatment is done. It’s important to give yourself and your loved ones time to adjust. Here are some of the questions you may have after your cancer treatment ends.

Path to well being

Will I need to see my doctor for follow-up appointments?

Yes. After your treatment ends, you’ll need to have regular follow-up appointments. At first, you may need to see your doctor every 3 to 4 months. After a while you may only need 1 or 2 checkups each year. How often you see your doctor depends on many factors. These include your age, overall health, the type of cancer, and the type of treatment you had. Your doctor will tell you how often to come in for follow-up appointments.

During your follow-up appointments, you will likely undergo more testing. This can tell if the cancer is still gone. Common tests include:

  • Blood tests.
  • Imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans or ultrasounds.
  • This is when a tiny camera is inserted into the body to look at your organs.

Your doctor can tell you what tests, if any, are necessary.

Your follow-up care can also help manage side effects. Cancer treatments often cause side effects. Some of these continue even after treatment has stopped. Some treatments, such as chemotherapy, can have long-term effects. These include risk of infection, organ damage, or infertility. Your doctor can watch for these types of side effects and help treat them.

Visiting your doctor for a follow-up appointment may make you feel worried and upset. You may be afraid your doctor will tell you that your cancer has returned. These feelings are normal and should lessen over time. You may find it helpful to bring a friend or family member with you to provide comfort and support.

Should I make any changes to my diet after treatment?

During cancer treatment, your doctor may have recommended increasing the amount of protein and calories in your diet. After treatment ends, you can get back to a more balanced diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Eat a moderate amount of lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Limit the fat and sugar in your diet. A healthy diet will help your body get better after cancer treatment. It’s also important for you to get regular exercise and plenty of sleep.

Most eating-related side effects will go away after your cancer treatment ends. Some people continue to have problems. These can include lack of appetite, weight loss, or nausea. If you experience side effects that don’t go away after treatment, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you deal with eating-related problems.

What if I have sexual problems after treatment?

If you experience sexual problems after your cancer treatment, you’re not alone. Many people have low desire for sex during treatment. They may feel anxious about how sex will feel after treatment is over. If your treatment has changed your physical appearance, you may feel uncomfortable with these changes. Or you may be worried about your partner’s reaction. In this situation, it’s important to be honest with your partner about your feelings. You may find it helpful to ask for advice from your doctor or a counselor. Also, remember that sex is just one of many ways to be close and intimate with your partner.

Certain side effects of treatment can make sexual activity difficult. For example, some women experience vaginal dryness from cancer medicines, even after they stop taking them. Some men experience impotence after surgery for prostate cancer. Your doctor can suggest ways to deal with sexual side effects. Try not to feel embarrassed about asking your doctor for help.

Can I return to work after treatment?

For some people, returning to work is a priority after cancer treatment ends. Some choose not to go back to their jobs. Others do not feel physically able to return to work. If you decide to return to work, keep in mind that it may take a while to adjust.

Some of your work relationships may have changed. Your employer may not know whether you can perform the same duties you did before your cancer treatment. Some of your coworkers may seem uncomfortable around you at first. Deal with this situation in a way that feels right to you. You may prefer not to discuss your illness with your coworkers. Or you may want to tell them about your experiences and answer their questions. The choice is yours.

How will my loved ones feel after my treatment?

Even after your cancer treatment ends, your loved ones may go through a range of emotions. These can include everything from relief to anxiety. Children may feel especially afraid that your cancer will return. They will need reassurance. Family members may seem uncomfortable talking about your illness and treatment. You may want to start a conversation with them. Ask them open-ended questions. For example, ask, “What did you think was the worst part when I had cancer?” rather than simply, “Are you all right?”

How will I feel emotionally after treatment?

Having a positive attitude is an important part of surviving cancer. But don’t expect yourself to be upbeat all the time. Allow yourself time to heal emotionally as well as physically. Sometimes you may feel angry about having cancer. Or you may feel sad about the changes your treatment has caused. Feelings like these are normal.

Some people may have negative feelings that keep them from enjoying life. If you have these feelings and they don’t go away, it’s important to get help. Your doctor may be able to suggest treatment options to help you deal with emotional problems. Talking openly with a loved one, a counselor, or a spiritual advisor may also be helpful. A support group for cancer survivors can be a good resource. You can express your emotions and get help from people who understand what you’re going through.

Things to consider

Part of maintaining your health after treatment is being aware of the signs that could mean your cancer has returned. If you don’t know these signs, it’s easy to assume that every change in your body means that your cancer is back. Ask your doctor to explain the specific signs you should watch for. That way you don’t have to live in constant fear that your cancer has returned.

The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society say you should call your doctor if you experience any of the following after cancer treatment:

  • Pain, especially if it doesn’t go away or happens in the same place.
  • Lumps or swelling.
  • Unusual bleeding or bruises.
  • Fever or cough that doesn’t go away.
  • Unexplained rashes.
  • Weight loss or weight gain.
  • Regular fatigue.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Any other symptom that makes you worry your cancer has come back.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How often will I need to come in for follow-up appointments?
  • Will I need to undergo testing at these appointments?
  • What are signs I should look for that my cancer may have returned?
  • Are there any long-term side effects to my treatment that I should watch out for?
  • When can I return to work after treatment?
  • What should I do if I am feeling overly sad or depressed?