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Cancer: The facts about follow-up care

Follow-up care can help prevent further health problems and catch them early if they do arise.

The end of cancer treatments may be your first opportunity in a long time to feel in control. Use it to take charge of your follow-up care.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the main purpose of follow-up care is to watch closely for the return or spread of cancer. It also allows your doctor to watch closely for side effects from cancer treatment, some of which can show up years later.

Follow-up care can also help with making healthy lifestyle changes. Physical and occupational therapists, counselors and others can help you reach goals such as stopping smoking, eating well and exercising.

Your first step is to make the commitment to regular care. Each cancer survivor has different needs, but a typical schedule is once every three or four months for the first two or three years, then one or two times a year.

To get the most from your follow-up care, keep this advice from the NCI in mind:

  • Make sure you understand what your doctor says. Take notes, record the visit or bring a friend to help listen.
  • Tell your doctor about any pain or other problem you think might signal a return of the cancer.
  • Talk about other issues, too, such as trouble sleeping or problems with your weight. Your doctor may be able to help.
  • Be a partner in developing a wellness plan that includes your physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.
It's also a good idea to keep a copy of your cancer treatment records so that you'll have the information for any new doctors you see.

Perhaps most important: Pay attention to your body and your health, and talk to your doctor about any changes or problems.

Reviewed 5/23/2023

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