Follow-up care after cancer treatment
After your cancer treatment has ended you will still need to go back to the hospital for regular check-ups. This is called follow-up.
The follow-up may involve having a physical exam, blood tests, scans and other tests.
How often will I have follow-up appointments?
Usually you’ll see your consultant every 3-6 months for the first year, but it depends on your diagnosis and the type of treatment you had. Afterwards you may have appointments every 6 months or once a year for a few years.
Your nurse specialist, oncology liaison nurse or consultant will give you details about your specific follow-up plan once your cancer treatment has ended.
It’s important to go to your follow-up appointments
You may have mixed feelings about your follow-up appointments. You may feel like you just want to forget about cancer. You may also feel anxious before your appointments. But it’s important to go to all your appointments.
Follow-up gives your doctor the chance to:
- Help with any side-effects that you may have.
- Check for signs of new side-effects that may develop after you have finished treatment.
- Check for signs of recurrence (the cancer coming back).
It’s better to be aware of any changes as early as possible so that suitable treatment can be given.
If you can’t make an appointment, call the hospital and reschedule. It may even be possible for your hospital to arrange follow-up for you abroad if you move away from Ireland.
Getting the best from your follow-up
Tell your doctor or nurse how you have been since your last appointment. Tell them about:
- Any new symptoms, aches or pains you have.
- If you’re finding it hard to cope.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have even if he or she does not ask you directly.
Your follow-up appointment is also a chance to ask about any other help you might need – for example if you’d like to be referred for counselling or other emotional support or if you’d like to talk to a dietitian or physiotherapist.
You could also ask your consultant about:
- Any symptoms to expect or watch out for.
- How to manage any side-effects or symptoms.
- What to do or who to contact if you have any symptoms or concerns. For some symptoms the hospital may prefer you to contact them, other times your GP might be the best person.
- Any medicines you’re taking.
Ask for a contact number and email address in case you have any worries or questions between appointments.
Sometimes it helps to write down what you want to say before you see the doctor so you don’t forget about anything important.
What if I have problems before my appointment?
If you are between check-ups and have a symptom or problem that’s worrying you, call your specialist nurse for advice or to arrange an earlier outpatient appointment if necessary.
If you become suddenly unwell and can’t contact your specialist nurse or hospital team, go to your GP or the accident and emergency department at the hospital.
What if the cancer comes back?
It’s very normal to worry about cancer coming back. It can be very distressing to live with this fear, although most people adjust in time. There’s more about coping with fear and anxiety in our section on coping with feelings.
You may worry that side-effects of your treatment area sign that your cancer has come back. This can be very distressing. Speak to your doctor if you are worried, but remember that side-effects like fatigue and pain after cancer treatment are very common and usually get better after a while.
If cancer does come back (recurrence), it can often be treated again. Your cancer doctor will advise you on what your treatment options are. Read more about recurrence.
Remember: If you are worried or notice any new symptoms between appointments, let your doctor know, especially if you have:
- A pain that does not go away, usually in one place.
- New or unusual lumps or swelling.
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or loss of appetite.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- A fever or cough that does not go away.
- Unusual rashes, bruises or bleeding.
- Any other symptom you are concerned about.
For more information
1800 200 700