Bladder Cancer: Follow-Up Care

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2020

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your medical care after cancer treatment is finished and why this follow-up care is important. Use the menu to see other pages.

Care for people diagnosed with bladder cancer does not end when active treatment has finished. Your health care team will continue to check that the cancer has not come back, manage any side effects, and monitor your overall health. This is called follow-up care and active monitoring.

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. For people treated for bladder cancer, follow-up care typically includes a general physical examination, cystoscopy (if the bladder has not been removed), urine cytology, type of x-rays, and routine blood and urine tests to make sure the bladder is working well and to check for any signs that the cancer has come back.

For people with a urinary diversion, follow-up care may include checking for infection with urine tests, checking and fixing problems with controlling urination, checking for recurrent cancer in the upper urinary tract, and checking for changes in kidney function with blood and urine tests and x-rays.

Cancer rehabilitation and survivorship care are often recommended, and this could mean any of a wide range of services, such as physical therapy, career counseling, pain management, nutritional planning, financial counseling, and/or emotional counseling. The goal of rehabilitation is to help people regain control over many aspects of their lives and remain as independent and productive as possible. Learn more about cancer rehabilitation.

Learn more about the importance of follow-up care.

Watching for recurrence

One goal of follow-up care is to check for a recurrence, which means that the cancer has come back. 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.

Tell your doctor about any new symptoms, such as pain during urination, blood in the urine, frequent urination, an immediate need to urinate, and any other symptoms. These symptoms may be signs that the cancer has come back or signs of another medical condition.

The anticipation before having a follow-up test or waiting for test results can add stress to you or a family member. This is sometimes called “scan-xiety.” Learn more about how to cope with this type of stress.

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. 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 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 discuss any concerns you have about your future physical or emotional health. ASCO offers forms to help keep track of the cancer treatment you received and develop a survivorship care plan when treatment is completed.

This is also a good time to talk with your doctor about who will lead your follow-up care. Some survivors continue to see their oncologist or urologist, while others transition back to the care of their family/primary care doctor or another health care professional. This decision depends on several factors, including the type and stage of bladder cancer, side effects, health insurance rules, and your personal preferences, expectations, and beliefs.

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 them and with all future health care providers. Details about your cancer treatment and communication preferences are very valuable to the health care professionals who will care for you throughout your lifetime.

The next section in this guide is SurvivorshipIt describes how to cope with challenges in everyday life after a cancer diagnosis. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.