ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your medical care after cancer treatment is completed and why this follow-up care is important. Use the menu to see other pages.
Care for people diagnosed with 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.
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. The purpose of follow-up care is to look for a spread of the disease or a recurrence. In general, people who have had eye melanoma should have regular checkups throughout their lifetime.
In general, people who have had radiation therapy or chose active surveillance are usually monitored every 3 to 6 months. Patients who had an eye surgically removed should receive a yearly eye examination. Their doctors should also monitor the orbit closely for the next 2 to 3 years after surgery. Your doctor can work with you to decide on an appropriate follow-up care plan.
Monitoring for signs of metastasis is an important part of your follow-up care, particularly for spread of the cancer to the liver or lungs. This process may include a physical examination, liver function blood tests, and imaging tests, such as a chest x-ray, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, or positron emission tomography (PET) scan, every 6 to 12 months. People treated for conjunctival melanoma may also have an imaging test done for their regional lymph nodes once a year. If a person is known to have a high-risk eye melanoma that is likely to recur or spread, the doctor may recommend more frequent monitoring. Your doctor can work with you to decide on an appropriate follow-up care plan.
Cancer rehabilitation may be recommended. This could mean any of a wide range of services, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, pain management, and/or emotional counseling that helps a person cope with changes in their appearance or self-image. The goal of rehabilitation is to help people regain control over many aspects of their lives and remain as independent 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. 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. Eye melanoma can recur several years after treatment. Between 6 to 12 months after treatment, it is important to check for recurrence or metastasis. During follow-up care, a doctor familiar with your medical history can give you personalized information about your risk of recurrence. Your doctor will ask specific questions about your health. Some people may have blood tests or imaging tests done as part of regular follow-up care. However, testing recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer first diagnosed and the types of treatment given.
The anticipation before having a follow-up test or waiting for test results may add stress to you or a family member. This is sometimes called “scanxiety.” Learn more about how to cope with this type of stress.
Managing long-term and late side effects
Most people expect to have 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 after treatment has ended. 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 your diagnosis, 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. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (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, while others transition back to the care of their primary care 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 them and with 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. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.