Cancer: After Treatment

From the day you were diagnosed with cancer, you've probably looked forward to getting back to your "normal" life. However, the disease has dominated your life for so long that it may take some time to get back into your regular routine after your treatment is done. It's important to give yourself and your loved ones time to adjust. This handout discusses some of the challenges you may face after your cancer treatment ends.

Will I need to see my doctor for follow-up appointments?

After your treatment ends, you'll need to have regular follow-up appointments. At first, you may need to see your doctor every 3 to 4 months. After a while you may only need 1 or 2 checkups each year. Your doctor will tell you how often to come in for a follow-up appointment. You may find it helpful to bring a friend or family member with you to provide comfort and support.

Visiting your doctor for a follow-up appointment may make you feel worried and upset. You may be afraid your doctor will tell you that your cancer has returned. These feelings are normal and should lessen over time. However, part of maintaining your health after treatment is knowing the signs that might mean your cancer has returned. If you don't know these signs, it's easy to assume that every change in your body means that your cancer has returned. Ask your doctor to explain what specific signs you should watch for. He or she can provide information to help you keep an eye out for problems without living in constant fear that your cancer has returned. Also, it is still important to get tested as needed for other forms of cancer. Your doctor can tell you what tests, if any, are necessary.

Should I make any changes to my diet after treatment?

During your cancer treatment, your doctor may have recommended increasing the amount of protein and calories in your diet. After cancer treatment ends, you can get back to a more balanced diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole-grains, and a moderate amount of low-fat meat and dairy products. Cut back on fat and sugar. A healthy diet will help your body get better after cancer treatment. It's also important for you to get regular exercise and plenty of sleep.

You may need to ease yourself back into a mealtime routine. Start with simple foods and familiar recipes. If you cook for yourself or your family, using prepared foods from the grocery store can make cooking easier. If possible, save some effort by making enough food for two or three meals and freezing the extra portions for future use.

Most eating-related side effects will go away after your cancer treatment ends. However, some people continue to have problems such as lack of appetite, weight loss or nausea. If you experience side effects that don't go away after treatment, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you deal with eating-related problems.

What if I have sexual problems after treatment?

If you experience sexual problems after your cancer treatment, you're not alone. Many people have low desire for sex or feel anxious about how sex will feel after they've been treated for cancer. If your treatment has changed your physical appearance, you may feel uncomfortable with these changes or worried about your partner's reaction. In this situation, it's important to be honest with your partner about your feelings. You may find it helpful to ask for advice from your doctor or a counselor. Also, remember that sex is only one of the many ways that you can be close and intimate with your partner.

Certain side effects of treatment can make sexual activity difficult. For example, some cancer drugs can cause vaginal dryness in women, even after they stop taking the drugs. Some men experience impotence after surgery for prostate cancer. Your doctor can usually suggest ways to deal with sexual side effects. Don't feel embarrassed about asking your doctor for help.

Can I return to work after treatment?

For some people, returning to work is a priority after cancer treatment ends. However, others choose not to go back to their jobs or do not feel physically able to return to work. If you decide to return to work, keep in mind that it may take a while to adjust.

Some of your work relationships may have changed. For example, your employer may not know whether you're able to perform the same duties that you did before your cancer treatment. Some of your coworkers may seem uncomfortable around you at first. Deal with this situation in a way that feels right to you. You may prefer not to discuss your illness with your coworkers, or you may want to tell them about your experiences and answer their questions. The choice is yours.

How will my loved ones feel after my treatment?

Even after your cancer treatment ends, your loved ones may go through a range of emotions -- everything from relief to anxiety. Children may feel especially afraid that your cancer will return and will need reassurance. If family members seem uncomfortable talking about your illness and treatment, you may want to start a conversation by asking them open questions. For example, ask, “What did you think was the worst part of my having had cancer?" rather than simply “Are you all right?"

How will I feel emotionally after treatment?

Although having a positive attitude is an important part of surviving cancer, it's not fair to expect yourself to be upbeat all the time. Allow yourself time to heal emotionally as well as physically. Sometimes you may feel angry about having cancer or sad about the changes your treatment has caused. Feelings like these are normal. However, if you have negative feelings that keep you from enjoying your life and don't go away, it's important for you to get help. Your doctor may be able to suggest treatment options to help you deal with emotional problems. Talking openly with a loved one, a counselor or a religious advisor may also be helpful. A support group for cancer survivors can be a good place to express your emotions and get help from people who understand what you're going through.

More Information

For more information talk to your doctor.

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Written by editorial staff.

American Academy of Family Physicians

Reviewed/Updated: 06/06
Created: 06/02