ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your medical care after cancer treatment is completed, and why this follow-up care is important. To see other pages, use the menu.
Care for people diagnosed with cancer doesn’t end when active treatment has finished. Your health care team will continue to check to make sure the cancer has not returned, manage any side effects, and monitor your overall health. This is called follow-up care.
Your follow-up care may include regular physical examinations, medical tests, or both. Doctors want to keep track of your recovery in the months and years ahead. People should have regular follow-up check-ups with their doctor to monitor the effects of treatment and to check for recurrences or distant metastases, which may occur even years after successful primary treatment. There is no known way to prevent recurrence of AdCC. A secondary cancer is rare after AdCC.
People treated with surgery may need cancer rehabilitation to regain physical function and flexibility. Treatments to the head and neck can affect swallowing, and patients may experience pain. These symptoms can be treated with rehabilitative therapy and, in most cases, get better gradually over time.
Follow-up care by an oncologic dentist may be needed after radiation therapy. Sometimes, care may be given by a prosthodontist if major surgery to the mouth or jaw has taken place during treatment. A prosthodontist is a dental specialist with additional training and certification in the restoration and replacement of broken teeth with crowns, bridges, and removable prosthetics, such as dentures.
Some people may experience depression following treatment, and this may require specialized therapy as well. Most cancer centers have support groups that encourage people to become more informed about these issues. Learn more about the next steps to take in survivorship, including making positive lifestyle changes.
Learn more about the importance of follow-up care.
Watching for recurrence
One goal of follow-up care is to check for a recurrence. Cancer recurs because small areas of cancer cells may remain undetected in the body. Over time, these cells may increase in number until they show up on test results or cause signs or symptoms. During follow-up care, a doctor familiar with your medical history can give you personalized information about your risk of recurrence. Your doctor will also ask specific questions about your health. Some people may have blood tests or imaging tests as part of regular follow-up care, but testing recommendations depend on several factors including the type and stage of cancer originally diagnosed and the types of treatment given.
Managing long-term and late side effects
Most people expect to experience side effects when receiving treatment. However, it is often surprising to survivors that some side effects may linger beyond the treatment period. These are called long-term side effects. In addition, other side effects called late effects may develop months or even years afterwards. Long-term and late effects can include both physical and emotional changes.
Talk with your doctor about your risk of developing such side effects based on the type of cancer, your individual treatment plan, and your overall health. If you had a treatment known to cause specific late effects, you may also have certain physical examinations, scans, or blood tests to help find and manage them.
Keeping personal health records
You and your doctor should work together to develop a personalized follow-up care plan. Be sure to ask about any concerns you have about your future physical or emotional health. ASCO offers forms to help create a treatment summary to keep track of the cancer treatment you received and develop a survivorship care plan once treatment is completed.
This is also a good time to decide who will lead your follow-up care. Some survivors continue to see their oncologist, while others transition back to the general care of their family doctor or another health care professional. This decision depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, side effects, health insurance rules, and your personal preferences.
If a doctor who was not directly involved in your cancer care will lead your follow-up care, be sure to share your cancer treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms with him or her, as well as all future health care providers. Details about your cancer treatment are very valuable to the health care professionals who will care for you throughout your lifetime.
The next section in this guide is Survivorship. It describes how to cope with challenges in everyday life after a cancer diagnosis. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.