Follow up can be used to check whether cancer treatment has worked, to identify if the cancer has come back (recurred), to manage side effects from treatment and monitor any long-term treatments. It also provides an opportunity for you to talk about how you’re feeling and to receive practical and emotional support.
Regular follow-up means that if the cancer does come back or if a new cancer develops, it can be treated quickly.
What does follow-up involve?
Your follow-up schedule, the tests you have and the members of your treatment team involved, will be planned based on your individual circumstances. In some cases, your GP will be the primary clinician for your follow up. People who are involved in a clinical trial may have other tests as well.
The types of tests that are done during follow-up depends on the type of cancer you had and where it was in your body. Tests might include physical examination, blood tests, medical imaging (such as ultrasounds or X-rays) or other scans. Some of these tests will be done before your follow-up appointment so you can discuss the results with your doctor. Your doctor will ask about any symptoms since your last visit. You may also be referred to other allied health professionals such a specialist nurse, dietitian or social worker.
Follow up is also an opportunity to raise any psychological and emotional issues, including issues around sexuality and intimacy.
How often you have these appointments will depend on your individual situation and how long it is since you finished treatment. Many people have check-ups every 3–6•months after finishing treatment for the first few years, then less often after that.
Some people find it reassuring to have regular follow-up tests. Others feel anxious around the time of their appointments. Both reactions are normal.
For most people, no changes are found during follow-up appointments. However, if follow up tests show an abnormal area, or if the doctor finds something suspicious during a physical examination, or you have symptoms that might indicate that the cancer has come back, further tests will be recommended.
If you notice a change or any symptoms that concern you between follow-up appointments, don’t wait until your next appointment. See your GP or specialist as soon as possible.
Questions to ask about follow-up
Some questions that may be helpful when talking about follow-up with your doctor:
- How often will I need follow-up tests?
- What will my follow-up tests involve?
- Where should I go for my follow-up tests?
- Who will tell me the results?
- Who should I contact if I have questions between follow-up appointments?
- What symptoms should I look out for?
- Who should I tell if I notice a new symptom?
- Who can I talk to about how I’m feeling?
- What will my follow-up care cost?