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Care for children diagnosed with cancer does not end when active treatment has finished. Your child’s health care team will continue to check that the cancer has not come back, manage any side effects, and monitor your child’s overall health. This is called follow-up care. All children treated for childhood cancer should have life-long follow-up care.
Your child’s follow-up care may include regular physical examinations, medical tests, or both. Doctors want to keep track of your child’s 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, 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 child’s medical history can give you personalized information about the risk of recurrence. Your child's doctor will ask specific questions about your child’s health. Some children may have blood tests or imaging tests as part of regular follow-up care. Testing recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer originally diagnosed and the types of treatment given.
The anticipation before having a follow-up test or waiting for test results can add stress to your child 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 of childhood cancer
Sometimes side effects may linger beyond the active treatment period. These are called long-term side effects. In addition, other side effects called late effects may develop months or even years afterwards. Late effects can occur almost anywhere in the body. They include physical problems, such as heart and lung problems and second cancers, which is a new cancer that happens in someone who has had cancer before. They also include emotional problems such as anxiety and depression, and problems with memory, thinking, attention and learning difficulties.
Based on the type of treatment your child received, the doctor will recommend what examinations and tests are needed to check for late effects. Follow-up care should address your child’s quality of life, including any developmental or emotional concerns.
The Children's Oncology Group (COG) has studied the physical and psychological effects that childhood cancer survivors face. Based on these studies, COG has created recommendations for long-term follow-up care for childhood, adolescent, and young adult cancer survivors that can be found on a separate website: www.survivorshipguidelines.org.
Keeping a child’s personal health record
You are encouraged to organize and keep a personal record of your child’s medical information. The doctor will help you create this. That way, as your child enters adulthood, they will have a clear, written history of the diagnosis, the treatments, and the doctor’s recommendations about the schedule for follow-up care. ASCO offers forms to help create a treatment summary to keep track of the cancer treatment your child received and develop a survivorship care plan once treatment is completed.
Some children continue to see their oncologist, while others transition back to the 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 family’s personal preferences. Talk with the health care team about your child’s ongoing medical care and any concerns you have about his or her future health.
If a doctor who was not directly involved in your child’s cancer care will lead the follow-up care, be sure to share the cancer treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms with him or her, and with all future health care providers. Details about the specific cancer treatment given are very valuable to the health care professionals who will care for your child throughout his or her lifetime.
The next section in this guide is Survivorship. It 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.