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Cancer Survivorship: Life After Cancer 

After you finish cancer treatment, what’s next? Cancer treatment keeps getting better, and millions of people are now living life after cancer. Healthcare providers are working to understand what they need. For many cancer survivors, there are still many issues to deal with after cancer. 

What is cancer survivorship? 

Cancer survivorship refers to a person with a history of cancer, from the time of diagnosis through the rest of his or her life. This period of time can include:

  • Maintenance treatment

  • Managing post-treatment symptoms

  • Coping with post-treatment emotions

  • Periods when the cancer may return, or a second cancer may occur

  • Future treatments as needed 

Cancer survivorship is a complex time of transition and change. It’s a time when you learn to adapt to a “new normal.” 

What is a survivorship care plan? 

A survivorship care plan (SCP) is a blueprint for moving forward after cancer treatment. Many medical groups advise that healthcare providers work with their patients to put together an SCP. The plan should outline the kinds of care you may need after treatment, who you will see for that care, and how all of your providers can work together to help you. An SCP can include: 

  • The story of your cancer with dates. This means the type, location, stage, and treatments.

  • Late side effects you need to know about and watch for. And a way to make sure you are treated for them.

  • A way to make sure you are in regular contact with your healthcare providers as needed

  • How to check for a new second cancer or signs that cancer has come back

  • A plan to get regular checkups and screening tests for your age group

  • Help in making healthy lifestyle changes so you can manage or prevent problems

  • Resources for support after cancer treatment 

Ask your healthcare team if they can give you a survivorship care plan.

Possible problems after cancer treatment 

If you’ve had radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy, you know these treatments can be hard on your body. They can also be hard on your mental health, and cause stress, depression, and anxiety. Any of these physical or emotional problems can affect your family life, your work life, and your relationships. And after treatment, you may still be at risk for long-term or late side effects. These may include: 

  • Nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy)

  • Swelling because of removed lymph nodes (lymphedema)

  • Tiredness

  • Pain

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Sleep problems

  • Heart problems

  • Bone problems

  • Problems with sexual function and fertility

  • Menopause symptoms

  • Trouble remembering, thinking, and paying attention

  • Mouth problems 

Staying healthy after cancer 

Cancer and cancer treatment is hard on the body. You’ll need to take good care of yourself after cancer. You may be more at risk for infections. You may also be at risk for cancer growing back, or for a second cancer. Talk with your healthcare team about how to help lower these risks. Staying healthy can help. To take good care of yourself:  

  • Eat a healthy diet

  • Get regular physical activity

  • Protect yourself from the sun

  • Don’t smoke

  • Limit alcohol

  • Practice good oral health care

  • Get a flu shot every year

  • Keep your social life active

  • Talk with a counselor or other therapist if you need to 

Talk with your healthcare provider if you need help with any of these. 

Working with your healthcare team going forward 

You may need different kinds of care after cancer to help you deal with after-effects of treatment. You will likely need ongoing support in various ways. After treatment, you won’t see your cancer care team as often. This can be stressful because they may have become a big part of your life. Now your primary healthcare provider will take over your care. But you will have follow-up appointments with your cancer team. These are to check for side effects, any signs of returning cancer, or signs of a second cancer. Make sure to keep all appointments. 

Contact your healthcare provider if you have any new symptoms or symptoms that come back. You may need to get tests every few months or so to make sure the cancer hasn’t come back. You’ll see your cancer care team and be tested less often as time goes on.

Getting support

You can connect with other cancer survivors and find support from organizations such as:

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2017
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.