Follow-up care after cancer treatment ends is very important. These visits help your doctors make sure the cancer does not return. They also help to identify and address possible changes in your health that may be due to your cancer history. Your follow-up care depends on the type of cancer and the type of treatment you had, as well as your overall health.
Planning Care, Keeping Records
Follow-up care is usually different for each cancer survivor. It is important to work with your healthcare team to develop a plan. Together, you will need to decide which doctors will provide your follow-up care and other medical care, how often you should be seen, and what follow-up tests are needed.
Since new doctors may participate in your care, it is important to keep a copy of your medical records to share with them. This information should contain the type of cancer you were diagnosed with, test results, and treatment details. Many older adults have other ailments, so it is also essential to include information about all medical conditions, medications, and doctors that you are seeing.
What Happens During Doctor Visits
Follow-up cancer care involves regular medical checkups that include a review of your medical history and a physical exam. Follow-up care may include blood work and other lab tests and procedures that allow the doctor to examine or take pictures of areas inside the body.
Follow-up care visits are important to help prevent or detect other types of cancer, to address ongoing problems related to cancer treatment, and to look for effects that may develop later. At these visits, the doctor also will look for signs that the cancer might have come back or spread to other parts of the body.
What to Share With Your Doctor
Follow-up visits provide an opportunity for you to discuss with your doctor any problems and concerns that you have and to ask questions. Tell your doctor if you are having trouble doing everyday activities, and ask about new symptoms that you should watch for and what to do about them.
At each visit, mention any health issues you are having, such as
- new symptoms or pain
- physical problems that bother you, such as fatigue or trouble sleeping
- other health problems that you have, such as diabetes or arthritis
- medicines, vitamins, or supplements that you are taking and other treatments you are using
- emotional problems, such as anxiety or depression
Developing a Wellness Plan
Talk with your doctor about developing a wellness plan. Many cancer survivors benefit from the same advice given to anyone who wants to improve their health:
- eat a healthy diet
- maintain a healthy weight
- stop smoking
- avoid excessive alcohol use
- use sunscreen
- discuss any health concerns that you have with your doctor.
Exercise. People who exercise regularly experience less fatigue, fewer symptoms of depression, and increased strength and endurance. Exercise can make you feel better and improve your overall well-being. Adding exercise to your daily routine can be as simple as taking a walk or joining an exercise class at your local wellness center.
For examples of exercises for older adults, visit Go4Life®, the exercise and physical activity campaign for older adults.
Eat a Healthy Diet. Maintain a Healthy Weight. Eat a balanced diet every day to get the nutrients that your body needs. You should focus on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats and other proteins. Go easy on fat, salt, sugar, and alcohol. Try lower-fat cooking methods such as broiling and steaming. These tips will also help you maintain a healthy weight.
For information on healthy eating as you age, see Eating Well As You Get Older.
Quit Smoking. Quitting smoking and other types of tobacco use can reduce the risk of your cancer recurring as well as your chance of developing other types of cancer. If you have trouble quitting tobacco on your own, talk to your doctor about resources or medications that can help you. Call 1-800-44U-QUIT between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time or 1 (800) QUIT- NOW to get help.
Cut down on how much alcohol you drink. Research shows that drinking alcohol increases your chances of getting certain types of cancers.
Protect your skin from the sun. Try to limit your time in the sun, and seek shade when you can. When you must be in the sun, choose clothing that covers your skin and wear sunscreen, applying as recommended.
Discuss Health Concerns. Don't be shy about talking to your doctors about health problems or concerns that you have. They can help you assess the situation and get necessary help. For example, if you are experiencing fatigue, perhaps you are taking a medication that can affect your energy level.