ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your medical care after cancer treatment is finished 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. 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. Or you may develop another tumor, called a secondary tumor.
During follow-up care, a doctor familiar with your medical history can give you personalized information about your risk of recurrence or a secondary tumor. Your doctor will also ask specific questions about your health. Some people may have blood tests or imaging tests done 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.
Researchers are studying ways to prevent both recurrences and the development of secondary tumors, but there is no standard preventive treatment at this time.
Watching for stent or bypass problems
For patients who received a stent or surgical bypass to relieve jaundice, follow-up care involves checking whether it still works to remove the blockage. Patients should contact a doctor immediately if:
Jaundice becomes worse, becoming a deeper yellow
Jaundice recurs after the stent originally cleared the blockage
A fever develops, along with sweating, shaking, or abdominal pain
In these cases, the stent may need to be changed or repositioned.
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.
A long-term side effect of treatment for bile duct cancer is the development of strictures after surgery to the biliary system. Strictures are noncancerous scars that form slowly. They may narrow the bile ducts, causing symptoms similar to those of the original bile duct cancer.
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.