When your treatment finished, your doctor probably told you that you would need regular check-ups. You may need checkups for several years, depending on the type of cancer you had.
You may have mixed feelings about this. Follow-up appointments may make you feel anxious, especially in weeks before they are due. You may keep having thoughts about your cancer coming back, or that your doctor will find a different (new) cancer. This can be very frightening. There is more about coping with the fear of cancer coming back in Getting on with Life after Treatment.
At your first check-up, ask your doctor what tests you will need and when you will have them, and who will be following you up. Ask who you should contact if you are worried. Get phone numbers and times when it is best to contact them. See our list of questions that you may find useful to ask your doctor.
Your doctor may ask you about things that are not worrying you at all, but not ask you about things that are concerning you. Feel free to talk with your doctor about your concerns.
Everyone is different and follow-up care will vary depending on:
- the type of cancer you had
- the type of treatment you had
- any side effects that you may have.
Regular check-ups allow your doctor to keep an eye on your health and wellbeing.
They will also be looking for any signs that your cancer might have come back. Your doctor may use the check-ups to:
- see how you are recovering
- ask how you're feeling and coping with life after cancer
- monitor and treat any ongoing side effects
- ask if you have any concerns
- check any new symptoms.
Symptoms can be caused by other illnesses, a lot of them much less serious than cancer. Always check with your doctor if your symptoms persist.
Your doctor will ask you how you have been feeling and may examine you. Tell them about any symptoms that are bothering you. You may need to have a blood test, an X-ray or scan.
Most people will see their doctor at regular intervals after their treatment ends. As time goes on, and assuming that you stay well, your check-ups will become less often. Your follow-up appointments may be with your cancer doctor, or after a period of time you may be referred back to your GP for follow-up. It depends on the type of cancer and treatment you had.
There are national guidelines for follow-up care for some types of cancers (for example, melanoma, breast and bowel cancer). Call the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237) for details on these guidelines.
Remember: If you are worried or notice any new symptoms between appointments, let your doctor know. Don't worry and don't wait until the next time you are due to see your doctor.
"You do get nervous and you tell yourself in your mind it's only a check-up and they're not doing it for any reason other than it's just a check-up. It's hard for it not get out of proportion." Georgina
Coping with anxiety before your check-ups
Worry and anxiety before follow-up appointments is normal. Sleeping problems, having bad dreams and feeling more general aches and pains than usual are not uncommon before a check-up. Some people say they suffer from mood swings and don't feel hungry.
You may feel anxious because going back to the hospital brings back memories of your treatment, tests and side effects. Just when your life is getting back to normal and you feel in control again, a check-up can make you fearful. It forces you to think about the chance of your cancer coming back and your life being turned upside-down again.
Find ways to try to cope with your worries before each check-up. Once you have had a few check-ups and all is okay, you may be less concerned. These tips may also help.
- Take a close friend or relative with you to your check-up: don't try to deal with it alone.
- You will be surprised how much it helps to share your fears. And people close to you want to feel they are helping.
- Make the day something to look forward to. Plan to do something special after your check-up. Going out for a meal or meeting a friend can add a positive touch to the day.
- As hard as it may be, try to see your check-ups as positive. Regular check-ups increase your chance of any problems being picked up early when they are easier to treat.
- Distracting yourself can help you manage the anxiety prior to appointments. (See ‘What I can do to help myself’ for ideas on relaxation techniques.)